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Industry forecast: human-machine relations are on the rise

A severe shortage of workers is leading to an acceleration in the application of technological solutions in traditional and advanced industry: Internet of Things, smart machines, augmented reality for remote training and problem solving, predictive maintenance to streamline and prevent downtime, automation and more. All this is in the near future. Farther away, is man’s best friend: the robot.


In a fascinating conversation, Dikla Mor, VP of Management Consulting – AVIV AMCG, and Yariv Inbar, Director of Real-Time and IoT in the Matrix Software Products Division, talk about the technological trends that are expected to gain momentum in the coming years.


In recent years, and especially since the outbreak of Corona, the traditional industrial sector has been forced to advance, albeit almost reluctantly. Many factories have found themselves in extreme situations, where their very existence is hanging by a thread, with low profitability, the challenges of competing globally – especially with production in China and the Far East – and last but not least, severe labor shortages that are on a par with the well-publicized shortage of high-tech workers.


“We are increasingly seeing industry having difficulty in recruiting people for maintenance and production positions, such as maintenance managers, technicians, packers, painters, all jobs that, on the one hand, require skill and on the other, entail physical work,” says Dikla. “The new generation is not willing to perform these roles. And on top of that, the type of professional that is being sought after is changing – as more and more enterprises enter the world of automation, workers need to have the appropriate capabilities, which is another challenge, because people with the right training prefer the high-tech world.”


Yariv agrees, adding: “The shortage of workers is probably the number one cause of the acceleration in the adoption of modern technologies in the market. This was the case even before the outbreak of Corona, which brought with it additional challenges, such as absence of workers and the shutdown of production lines. Technology can reduce our dependence on professional manpower being physically present in the factory, fill roles that today’s workers refuse to do, streamline and improve productivity, and so on. We are no longer afraid of robots replacing workers. In fact, we are waiting for robots but they are still too expensive for many factories, and this will take a few more years.”


Industry 4.0 – a collection of advanced technologies


One of the things we have to look forward to is so-called Industry 4.0 – a term that was announced in 2015 in Germany and which combines a number of technologies: Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, augmented reality, cloud computing and more. Traditional industry in the Western world is already deep into this wave, and manufacturers are accelerating automation processes and digital transformation. For example, according to a 2021 survey, over the next two years, 53% of U.S. manufacturers plan to step up their automation processes. In Israel, things are happening more slowly – but they are happening. According to a survey conducted by AVIV-AMCG, 50% of organizations in Israel still collect data using Excel, and only 11% of organizations use sensors for smart, real-time data collection.


“New factories being built today are planned in advance as smart factories, but new factories, unfortunately, are hardly ever established,” says Yariv. “In most cases, what happens is rather the addition of advanced technological layers to existing machines. For example, we carried out such a project at the Maquette textile factory in Beit Jann, taking traditional sewing machines, and upgrading them. Today, they meet the most modern standards of Industry 4.0, storing all data and details of all the operations done on them, which has made the plant the most advanced in the Middle East. In this way, it is possible to obtain relevant information in real time, to make informed decisions regarding production lines, and at the end of the day, this helps the plant compete with the imports from abroad.”


Predictive maintenance – fixing faults before they occur


Predictive maintenance is the use of artificial intelligence and IoT to predict and prevent machine malfunctions. The world has already adopted such technology, which prevents downtime of production lines and saves capital. It is coming to Israel soon too.


“One of the most powerful examples of how smart machines can streamline production processes is through ‘predictive maintenance’,” says Dikla. “Factories will do almost everything to avoid downtime of machines which results in downtime of the production line. The economic losses of such an event can be enormous. Therefore, in most factories today, there are preventive maintenance processes in place. Once in a while, the machines are stopped and inspected. But even that costs money, because sometimes factory activity is halted for a few days. This is where the solution of predictive maintenance comes in, issuing advance warnings if a malfunction is about to occur.


“Today, some production machines have a real-time indicator, giving notice of changes, such as a rise in temperature. But, predictive maintenance makes it possible to predict in advance that a fault is expected, so that action can be taken to prevent it. This is done through artificial intelligence, which tracks the information collected from the various sensors, knows the outputs and so on. With predictive maintenance technology, we can also hire maintenance managers who are less senior and experienced, so it actually saves us twice-over – once by streamlining production processes, and again because as back-up for the smart machine, we can enlist the help of a less professional and skilled workforce – a huge saving in resources. This is a technology that is expected to gain momentum in the coming years, and will come into use in many factories. In fact, it is estimated that the size of the global preventative maintenance market will reach $13.9 billion by 2026.”


Augmented reality – a potential solution to the manpower challenge


Another technology having an impact on industry is augmented reality. Before Corona, augmented reality was like a shiny new toy – nice to have but not necessary. But, once the pandemic hit and people could no longer physically get into the factories, augmented reality became a significant asset to any enterprise that implemented it, as a means of addressing ongoing manpower shortages.

“Augmented reality enables remote technical support, reducing the need to be physically present in the factory to deal with problems,” says Yariv. “As such, it is a solution to the biggest pain point of industry today, so I expect it to gain momentum in the coming years. With its help, people in the factory can receive remote support from experienced technicians, and solve problems quickly. Another application of augmented reality is in rapid manpower training: whereas in the past, people worked in factories for many years, today this is not the case. Turnover is much higher, giving rise to a need for rapid training. Using augmented reality technology, it is possible to significantly shorten training time. At the moment, such technology will still be expensive for such applications, but in the more distant future, it could also be used to train end users. Perhaps this technology will turn us all into technicians and maintenance people.”


Matrix Software Products recently completed a revolutionary project at Ginegar Plastic Products, integrating augmented reality into the production process, saving the company a significant amount of time and money.

“The augmented reality system embedded into the company by Matrix Software Products enables us to retain the knowledge and experience accumulated in our factories over the years,” says Alskar Nafso, VP of Operations at Ginegar Plastics Products. “Not only that, the system enables us to streamline factory work, and helps make information more accessible and processes more efficient. All this indirectly contributes to business activities at the factory, helping us achieve our vision of providing the best, highest-quality and most advanced service for our customers.”


Advanced machines – smart and communicative

In the near future, machines will communicate with each other, taking humans out of the equation, and factories will develop new B2C business models.

“Machines are becoming a smart and communicative – they not only recognize what the problem is, but also know how to handle it and, if necessary, also how to operate another machine in order to handle the problem,” says Dikla. “Whereas today, we may have a production planning machine and a production machine, for example, with a human in between, I estimate that five years from now, planning machines will communicate directly with production machines, or the production machine will build its own production plan.


“Thinking a little further ahead, even our washing machines, for example, will be like that. We won’t have to choose a program – the machine will choose the program for itself and will know how to optimize its own operation, reduce the amount of electricity and water used, order a replacement part from the factory, etc. We are already there in advanced industries; with design algorithms being built into printers. In a blurring of boundaries between B2B and B2C, factories will sell the washing machines they manufacture directly to the consumer, based on an annual rental and maintenance model. As a rule, enterprises are developing new business models. Today, the EaaS (Equipment as a Service) model is gaining momentum in the U.S. For example, according to Gartner, by 2023, 20% of industrial equipment manufacturers will support the EaaS model with IoT capabilities.”


OT – a growing cyber risk


Technological acceleration in general – such as the connection between control systems and information systems of the IT network – and in the IoT field in particular has great benefits. But it also exposes the industry more than ever to cyber risks. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in cyber incidents around OT (Operational Technologies). These events can have dramatic consequences, including damage to human life, environmental damage, damage to reputation, loss of revenue and legal exposure. In a 2021 survey of executives from 600 companies in the US, 49% indicated that cyber risk management is at the top of their list of challenges for the next two years.


Cyber risk management in the OT environment requires special planning, because a typical OT environment combines up-to-date IT technologies alongside older technologies. Nowadays, factories and industry organizations are aware that they must make the issue of cyber risk management an integral part of their technological innovation programs in the coming years.


Robots – coming soon, but not as soon as we thought


Since the outbreak of Corona, the great advantages of robots have been more evident: they aren’t exposed to viruses, changes in the weather or other factors, so factories that have already implemented automation and robotics have continued to work, while others have had to downsize or stop because of the requirement for social distancing. Nevertheless, the proportion of factories that have implemented robots is still relatively low. According to Dikla: “The future is the brain – robots will think for us, look ahead, make decisions – that’s the trend.”


Hopefully we’ll be seeing robots arrive soon.

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