A project aiming to make manufacturing jobs more attractive in order to boost Europe as a production location has been launched by the VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center in Graz. Five European research partners from eight countries are part of this project, named FACT4WORKERS.
The four-year project is being funded through Horizon 2020, which is a EU funding programme for research and innovation of the European Commission. The VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center believes that improved training and increase of investment in factories and research and development will help bring Europe new and better jobs.
Production is moving away from European high-wage countries to countries or locations with low energy cost. To fight this trend the European industry is challenged to develop intelligent added-value concepts for the field of production. The EU-commission wants to reverse “the shrinking role of the industry" and restore the “attractiveness of Europe as a production location”, said former commissioner Antonio Tajani. With more investment in factories and research and development, the amount the industry contributes to the European economic output should increase from 15 to 20% by 2020.
Ambitious goals in research
The results of this research project should initiate a new industrial era, which is characterised by the so-called ‘Smart Factory’. The ‘Smart Workers’ in those production sites will be ideally supported by information and communication technology in order to improve the manufacturing process regarding flexibility, efficiency and reliability. This will result in a local benefit in competition and secure (central) European production locations.
In a ‘Smart Factory’, the focus lies on the worker as the most flexible element involved in the manufacturing process. He or she becomes a ‘production knowledge worker’ and is supported by optimised information and communication technology, a self-learning working environment and in-situ learning while operating the machine.
The intended digitalisation is not limited to single factories, it will affect entire added value networks. This can be achieved via so-called ‘cyber-physical systems’, which are systems consisting of various components that communicate via the internet or other means of communication.
The human component - a key factor
In addition to this technical approach, there also has to be a focus on the role of the worker as the human component and key factor in the manufacturing process. Here the term ‘knowledge work’ is coined. Knowledge work is completely different from traditional automated routine activities in a factory. It is defined by an entirely new, complex and autonomous work environment. Furthermore, ‘Smart Workers’ develop new ways of continuous improvement of knowledge exchange on their own at the work place.
“We have to bring into question, how people work and learn, how they interact with new technologies and how they can create an added value to the industry by working at an attractive and demanding work place,” commented Martin Wifling, Project Leader, FACTS4WORKERS, VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center. The answers to these questions are the key to successful and human-centred solutions of information and communication strategies within manufacturing processes.
By reflecting on the situation of the worker in the manufacturing process it is possible to increase their satisfaction and motivation, which can lead to an overall increase of productivity by 10%. The main research focus in this project, though, lies in “creating a significantly more attractive work area in manufacturing in Europe so that more people choose this demanding and ever changing occupational field,” adds Wifling.