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17 Dec, 2020 / BY Neil Sharp

Industry 5.0 has arrived - is UK electronics manufacturing ready?

Industry-5.0-UK-electronics-manufacturingOver the past decade the UK electronics manufacturing industry has experienced both excitement and trepidation as it has grappled with the challenges of Industry 4.0.

Enhanced interconnectivity, improved production outputs and machines designed to fix themselves before they fail - this new digital age has well and truly put technology at the forefront of manufacturing.

But just as manufacturers may be thinking that they are coming to grips with the smart factory, the next phase of industrialisation - Industry 5.0 - is already hot on its heels.

So what makes Industry 5.0 different from its predecessor? And what does this new iteration bring to the table?

Well firstly, the good news is that the differences between Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0 are not as vast as you might think.

Both models seek to enhance the roles of humans and machines within manufacturing and both have been designed to help people focus on the more creative, high-value and rewarding tasks within their electronics manufacturing environment.

But while Industry 4.0 championed the power of digitalisation to enhance automation, improve efficiency and transform processes, Industry 5.0 aims to reinstate the human element.

And where Industry 4.0 focused on mass automated production, Industry 5.0 signals a return to a more customised and personalised model.

Industry 5.0 aims to bring together the best of both the digital and the human worlds by combining the superior cognitive processing abilities, the speed and the consistency of collaborative robots, or cobots, with the intelligence, the resourcefulness and the creativity of humans.

So what's brought on this transition to a new industrial model?

The introduction of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IOT) and machine learning has become a staple of Industry 4.0, with smart connected devices and data analytics all contributing to elevating the quality of manufacturing production across the board.

But in choosing to remove people from the equation, manufacturers have also seen other challenges start to emerge.

Consumers are demanding more customisation in their products, for example, which requires greater creative input from humans.

But while machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies play a major role in the mass production of standard products in standardised processes, they're not always as useful when it comes to the customisation or personalisation of products.

What many businesses have also realised is that it is vital to retain those precious and innately human skills of problem solving, adaptability and critical thinking.

Tesla's CEO Elon Musk has been quoted as saying that excessive automation at his company "was a mistake" and that "humans are underrated."

The increased reliance on automation and artificial intelligence has also raised some ethical questions.

There are some who believe for example that, much like the Industrial revolutions that have come before it, Industry 4.0 may have had a part to play in heightening inequalities within the manufacturing workforce.

The biggest beneficiaries, some argue, are the small group of innovators, providers and investors - or those in control of the intellectual capital - while those with lower education or fewer skills have been left at a disadvantage.

What's also become apparent is that while Industry 4.0 offers a host of potential benefits, there are still many mid-sized manufacturers who have been slow to invest in the technologies that drive it.

Preparing for Industry 5.0

In Industry 5.0 we're going to see robots taking responsibility for handling repetitive tasks, while humans focus on perception-driven decisions and design.

With this newest wave of industrial revolution there's little doubt that the companies that are going to survive and thrive are those that embrace change and that are able to adapt accordingly.

Industry 5.0 is likely to bring with it the need for new skills and training that place greater emphasis on the interaction between machines and operators.

It's also going to ask businesses to think differently about their use of industrial robotics and about how they manage and interact with their data.

For those open to change however, it promises a raft of benefits for electronics manufacturing.

Through the collaboration of humans and machines there is the opportunity to improve operational efficiency and boost productivity by sharing workloads across a variety of manufacturing processes,

The digital age has helped to put technology firmly at the heart of 21st century manufacturing and the ultra-fast precision of automated technology is proving itself to be a powerful force.

But what's also clear is that people, personalisation and the human touch still have a hugely important part to play.

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