Fine watches, craft beer and the psychology of Industry 5.0
Industry 5.0? Really? Most industries are only just getting to grips with the idea of connected factories and automated processes, as described by the term Industry 4.0. Are we really ready for another industrial revolution? Danish Manufacturer Universal Robots reckons we are, and it will bring out an inimitably human side in machines.
It’s about psychology, rather than technology, says Esben Østergaard, chief technology officer and co-founder of Universal Robots, a company that rather wants to make the next-but-one revolution anti-industrial, or at least anti-digital. Industry 5.0 will introduce a “human touch” to proceedings, he suggests.
“For producers, ‘lights out’ manufacturing provides few opportunities for adding value, It’s all about lowering costs while ensuring product differentiation. For workers, it’s even worse – those who are employed in Industry 4.0 setups are expected to work like machines, ‘programmed’ by management to perform an exact number of tasks every hour.”
Østergaard suggests the movement will follow on the heels of the creeping digitalisation of industry. His company has introduced collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’, to remove dull and dangerous jobs from factory workers. This trend for automation is a first step.
“Cobots mean people don’t have to work like robots. Ten years ago, parents told their kids not to work in factories – that’s a shame, because there is a lot of innovation and advancement happening in factories. Industry 5.0 will make the factory a place where creative people can come and work, to create a more personalised and human experience for workers and their customers.”
Founded in 2005 by Østergaard, and his partners Kristian Kassow and Kasper Støy, Universal Robots has set out to play the automation game differently, with the purpose of serving people, and not just enterprises. The trio studied together at the University of Southern Denmark, where they came up with the idea of creating a light robot that would be easy to install and programme.
Østergaard took inspiration from the original concept of robots, which he believes many people have forgotten: “Robots were about human self-reflection. They were pieces of art, and a way for humans to understand what makes us what we are,” he explains.
“But in the 1960s, they started to be used more in factories and became an industrial product; from the 1980s, onwards, they have become part of the culture – thanks to stuff like James Bond.”
Robots used to be inflexible, and unsafe, he observes. The trio decided to investigate the need for small and medium companies to have access to robotics. In 2009, Universal Robot’s first product, the UR5, was born: a six jointed articulated arm robot, called a cobot.
The UR5 weighed 18kg, and had a lift-capacity of 5kg and an operating circle of 85cm; it revolutionised the market for industrial robots, says Østergaard. “We’ve had a tremendous journey. I think we have the most robots here,” he says, casting his eye over the halls at Hannover Messe, the planet’s largest industrial trade fair.
Out of the 40 cobot manufacturers, Universal Robots has a 60 per cent market-share. But while the company has been successful in its journey, Ostergaard wants to do more. “Something has been lost during the last four industrial revolutions.” He quotes Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. “The medium is the message,” he says.
“New technologies determine changes in patterns of human thought and behaviour – technologists like me might wish that were the case, that we are the ones to decide how people act. But I don’t believe that. I believe human psychology trumps technology, and puts it to its own uses.”
Østergaard continues: “People want to stand out – to be seen as unique. To express themselves through their choices, including their purchasing choices. Now, for the first time since the dawn of the industrial age, technologies are available that allow people to express themselves as individuals through personalised products – not just products that only the super-rich can afford, but products within reach even for people with modest incomes.”
The definition of Industry 5.0, then, is to use technology to return human ‘value-add’, to borrow a horrible business term, to manufacturing. “The personalised products consumers will demand most and pay most for are products that bear the distinctive mark of human care and craftsmanship – such as fine watches and craft beer,” explains Østergaard.
“Products like these can only be made through human involvement – human engagement – and I believe this human touch, above all, is what consumers seek when they want to express their identity through the products they buy. These consumers accept technology – they don’t mind if automation, for example, is a part of the manufacturing process.
“But they crave the personal imprint of human designers and craftspeople, who produce something special and unique through their personal effort. This is personalisation – this is the feeling of luxury. This is the future.”
So will Industry 5.0 mean going back to the dark ages?
“That, in my view, is the great irony in the latest leap forward in automation – it is a return to what, at least in many respects, resembles a pre-industrial form of goods production, but one that is enabled by the most advanced industrial automation technologies out there, starting with collaborative robots.
“By putting human beings back at the centre of industrial production – aided by tools such as collaborative robots – Industry 5.0 not only gives consumers the products they want today, but gives workers jobs that are more meaningful than factory jobs have been in well over a century.”