5 Manufacturing Roles that Will Soon Look Very Different

5 Manufacturing Roles that Will Soon Look Very Different
Industry Week August 2021
By Stephen Laaper and Asi Klein

The fact that digital transformation and Industry 4.0 are changing manufacturing operations is no secret, nor is the fact that skilled manufacturing talent is increasingly harder to come by. With Deloitte research projecting that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2028, the question becomes: What talent and skills do manufacturers need in order to succeed in the factory of the future?

Here we look at five manufacturing jobs and how they are expected to evolve. We highlight the critical new skills needed for these jobs that manufacturers will need to cultivate in order to better recruit, train and upskill workers.

A common thread across all of the jobs below is a trend in “human capabilities”—or soft skills—becoming just as important as technical and manufacturing skills. For example, as artificial intelligence (AI) reduces the need for humans to be involved in lower-value, manual work, workers increasingly need to be able to take on new responsibilities in areas such as problem-solving, communication, interpretation, design thinking and customer engagement.

Five Roles that are Getting Smarter

Several manufacturing roles are changing due to technology innovation. We chose the five roles below to highlight as these roles are experiencing a particularly high level of evolution in the smart factory era and are representative of how manufacturing jobs will continue to evolve.

The Production Planner

Production planners will shift from reactively managing shop floor issues to much more proactive roles in which they are regularly analyzing data insights, managing exceptions and identifying opportunities for continuous improvement. They will move from using manual processes for monitoring supply and inventory positions to using predictive analytics and digital twins to create optimized production schedules and proactively manage supply issues.

New skills needed include increased business acumen, continuous improvement (lean and six sigma methods), data analysis and visualization, and data-driven decision making to interpret insights and patterns from production data. They will also need to become comfortable using digital twins for scheduling and understand how increased use of technologies such as robotics and IoT sensors enable production lines.

The Industrial Engineer

Industrial Engineers will increasingly use digital twins and other cyber-physical systems, in addition to other methods of automation, to create greater connectivity between manufacturing processes and optimize shop floor operations. They will focus on optimizing human-machine interactions and become the bridge between OT and their IT colleagues.

New skills needed include intellectual curiosity to stay current on technology and manufacturing trends; an appetite for risk, innovation and experimentation; greater technical acumen and an understanding of how to collaborate with agile/DevOps IT teams to experiment and test new technology optimizations on the shop floor. Industrial engineers will also need skills in the areas of design for manufacturability, data science, python, R and other programing languages, and the implementation of technologies including co-bots, IoT sensors, digital twins and wearables.

The Operator

Today’s operators tend to specialize in one machine or product line and rely on institutional knowledge, supervisor instruction and personal judgment in overseeing machines and processes, leaving room for human error. In the future, operators will use digital tools, such as digital twins and AI “recommendation engine” support, to proactively identify and solve issues. They will be trained as generalists who can work across machines and product lines.

For new skills, they will need to be able to use 3D models for model-based manufacturing, understand predictive and prescriptive maintenance practices, have a continuous improvement mindset, know how to interpret and act on insights from digital twins and be able to work collaboratively with robots on automated production lines.

The Line Leader

Line leaders will move from manual work and reactive problem solving to proactive issue identification and prevention through automated processes and tools.

In the future, they will need to be skilled in the areas of coaching, team management, continuous improvement and using real-time production data to determine root causes and prevent recurring issues. They will also need to have deep familiarity with predictive and prescriptive maintenance and technology evolution in the areas of IoT, digital twins, robotics, and automated machinery.

The Quality Engineer

Today’s quality engineers are often making changes to standards in reaction to customer complaints, sub-optimal yields, or defective products. In the future, they will be able to monitor processes in real time, predict quality issues before they occur, and quickly trace and diagnose any issues through the use of digital twins, machine learning models, advanced analytics and the ability to embed intelligence quality controls.

Going forward, they will need greater analytical thinking skills; the ability to use 3D models for model-based manufacturing; an understanding of how to collaborate during design iterations as part of an agile team; an understanding of big data, data science and machine learning; and the ability to create, manipulate and interpret data insights from virtual models of production processes such as digital twins.

The Smart Factory: Where Man + Machine = Success

Beyond the five jobs above, many other manufacturing jobs are also subject to automation, but this doesn’t have to be a threat to manufacturing talent. In fact, automation brings opportunities for good talent to evolve and hone new skill sets. Beyond the clear need for talent to get more comfortable with new technologies and have a much higher level of digital acumen, there is also a critical need for human skills that machines cannot replicate. The importance of skills in areas such as conceptual thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, interpretation, innovation and design cannot be overstated. Even further out of reach for machines are such capabilities as team management, effective communications, conflict resolution and relationship-building.

The smart factory of the future will perfectly blend human capabilities with technology. Manufacturers can get ahead now by understanding how critical manufacturing roles will evolve and how to hire, train and upskill for these roles. Getting it right in talent development will ultimately separate the leaders from the laggards.