January 30, 2017

The world is changing, and intelligent systems and automated manufacturing are drawing closer and closer to reality. To an extent, machines have been used in manufacturing for many years, but their spread and scope are rapidly increasing with advances in technology, particularly artificial intelligence. Nowhere is this more evident than in China, where officials are set to plunge huge amounts of investment into automated manufacturing systems, with the goal of making China a world leader in manufacturing by 2025. The looming changes in the way we live and work have even been given a name – the fourth industrial revolution.

Pick and place robot handling system
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The Fourth Industrial Revolution

So what makes the fourth industrial revolution different from the other three? The original industrial revolution – the period in history when humans changed from an agricultural to an industrial society – is the one that the phrase usually refers to, and began in the late 18th century with the age of steam and mechanical production equipment. Then, in the mid-19th century, with the wide deployment of electricity coupled with the advent of mass production, the second industrial revolution was born. This was followed by the third revolution: the invention of electronics and the rise of information technology and computers, again changing the way that we live and work.

Building on the third revolution, the fourth industrial revolution ties together the virtual world of computing and physical objects, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT), with advances in automation and artificial intelligence. This may once again completely change the way that we live and work, with disruptive technologies such as self-driving cars just the tip of the iceberg. It can be seen as either a growing threat, or a huge opportunity – but China, at least, is running headlong toward Industry 4.0, as the phenomenon is also known, at full speed.

China 2025

China has had a plan for some time now: to transform from a manufacturing giant into a world high-tech manufacturing power. The 10-year plan is called the “Made in China 2025” initiative and has ten key fields: high-end automated machine tools, rail equipment, agricultural equipment, energy-saving vehicles, information technology, biomedicine and high-end medical apparatus, aerospace and aviation equipment, electrical equipment, new materials, and maritime engineering equipment. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology intends to extend the scope of the pilot cities that have been carrying out the initiative, promoting 133 key projects in 25 provinces.

The central government plans to invest 5.2 billion yuan ($780 million), almost 1.5 times the money invested last year, to help upgrade the nation's systems, boost its intelligent manufacturing, and cut down on its excessive capacity. The government is at pains to change China’s manufacturing to focus on quality more than quantity, which will help it to maintain economic growth at a medium to high level and gain more value globally. Siasun, the country’s largest robotics and automation company, has welcomed the policies and will make more effort to train talent to manufacture and operate automated systems as the initiative gains momentum.

 

The Way Forward

The kinds of ‘talent’ that companies like Siasun will need are going to be quite different from the kinds of work that people are doing today. As automation takes over more and more of our lives, it has the potential to cause disruptive social change, with wide political ramifications that have recently started to make themselves known. With this in mind, it’s worth considering how workers will need to adapt to this new normal. Online education courses in the topics that these new jobs will require are likely to become hugely important for many adults who do not have sufficient education and training to succeed in the new economy.

And it’s likely that, as goes China, so goes the West… so adults in Canada may soon have to face the possibility that their skills are out of date too. George Brown College provides courses that will aid people during this transition, from PLC programming to electromechanical and electronics technician. The college, which offers a certificate of completion, aims to equip its adult students with the skills to survive and thrive in the newly automated world – skills that will be incredibly important for the economy going forward.

 

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