Manufacturing industry to invest in connected industrial workforce

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 21 April 2016
Manufacturing industry to invest in connected industrial workforce

Automotive and industrial equipment companies could spend up to €220 billion in research and development (R&D) over next five years to create a connected industrial workforce, according to a new Accenture report.

Accenture’s Machine dreams: Making the Most of the Connected Industrial Workforce report, showed that 94% of respondents from the US, Europe and Asia have already prioritised creating a connected industrial workforce and at least 85% expect this connected industrial workforce to be commonplace in their plans by 2020.

Respondents estimated that their companies could spend up to a quarter of their R&D expenditure over the next five years on connected industrial workforce technologies, including such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and analytics tools. This could reach €181 billion for automotive companies and €39 billion for industrial equipment companies.

US respondents expect to make 40% of R&D investment in the connected industrial workforce, while those in China, Germany, France and Japan estimate they will spend 23%, 20%, 19% and 17% of their R&D budgets respectively.

Almost 85% of respondents expect manufacturing to become human-machine-centric, where collaborative machines, humans augmenting machines, and autonomous machines are combined to create a more effective workforce.

Already, 39% of companies assign injection moulding to collaborative robots (cobots), while autonomous guided vehicles – mobile robots that move materials around a facility or warehouse – currently account for half of spending by many of the organisations surveyed. These same organisations plan to boost their investments in both cobots and augmented reality devices, including smart glasses and helmets, over the next five years. For example, 72% plan to assign gluing and welding to cobots and 69% will use them during assembly processes to drive significant productivity improvements.

“As cobots take on more and more specialised tasks, leading manufacturers that are investing in digital to harness competitive advantage are moving rapidly toward human-machine-centric manufacturing,” said Eric Schaeffer, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s Industrial practice.

However, Accenture’s research revealed that fewer than 22% of respondents’ companies have implemented measures designed to realise the potential of the connected industrial workforce.

The most common challenges included data vulnerability, system complexity and vulnerability, and a shortage of skilled human workers, which were deemed as medium or high risks by 75%, 72% and 70% of respondents respectively.

In addition, 85% of respondents described their companies as digital followers or laggards, rather than leaders.

“Those leading manufacturers investing in digital technologies to harness competitive advantage are spending almost twice as much as laggards on the connected industrial workforce – and will continue to raise the bar over the next five years,” said Eric Schaeffer, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s Industrial practice. “We also see laggards lacking the confidence to implement the technologies that underpin a successful connected industrial workforce and this may threaten their competitiveness.”

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