A view across the manufacturing sector: identifying root causes of stress to improve Industry 4.0

A view across the manufacturing sector: identifying root causes of stress to improve Industry 4.0

New ideas are the seeds for boosting innovation into manufacturing industries. Universities are the soil that nurtures these seeds. This is why at Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe we partner with Unismart, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Padova that functions to connect academia with companies and industrial associations.

One of the Unismart co-innovation projects, Contamination Lab is an opportunity for young talents to turn their creativity and ideas into innovative solutions. Within the Contamination Lab, five students with very different backgrounds embraced the challenge introduced from Konica Minolta to them, to identify new solutions for digitising manufacturing. Together with the students, we identified a new focus of interest based upon different root causes of stress.

Why manufacturing?

There are important technologies and megatrends that are strongly shaping the future of the manufacturing sector. The fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0, combines the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and big data analysis, to bring automation to a completely new level. If well-designed, Industry 4.0 will improve efficiencies whilst reducing the costs of manufacturing.

Is automation going to substitute humans? No, it will not happen, as The Future of Jobs Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum says.    Autonomous technologies can perform some human tasks. However, machines cannot and will not replace human creativity, flexibility, and the ability to learn and to improve, in the near future.

Human beings will remain in a dominant role. This means that the fourth industrial revolution is not just a technical issue but also a human issue. Hence, to be fully realised, Industry 4.0 must also include the wellbeing of employees within manufacturing.

This is why we pay attention to the human work of the manufacturing sectors, to understand what is lacking in terms of processes, within the organisation and its management, in the internal communication, and in safety and security.

Identification of root causes of stress

We adopt a Design Thinking Process to understand people’s needs and to reframe problems and solutions towards a human-centric approach.

We adopted a two-level methodology to our research. The first, an exploration level, examines the many definitions of problems and use cases. The second, an investigation level, gathers requirements and needs to shape the features for use cases.

Students from the Contamination Lab conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups to gather information from five different organisations, in order to identify the main route causes of stress for employees in manufacturing. They can be clustered into four main areas:

  1. Organisational and management
    1. Deficiency of prediction and planning production due to yearly variations of workflow.
    2. Lack of handover and archiving techniques.
  2. Relational and communicational
    1. Strong degree of separation among hierarchical levels.
    2. Lack of both communication and operational sharing of information across departments.
  3. Safety and security
    1. The level of productivity decreases with environmental changes, as such as an increase in temperature.
    2. Using robes and wearable protections is annoying because they make you less connected to the real environment.
    3. The level of disturbance tolerated by workers (such as noise) is different depending on the specific location and the activity performed.
    4. Pain and perception of pain is strictly related to the role, e.g. manual workers have a much more physical job than office workers.
    5. There is a need for physical support and help as productivity may be reduced by an increased level of discomfort amongst the workers.
  4. Archiving and operating information
    1. Often, machines and procedures are not designed for users. This could generate a lack of understanding
    2. Uncertainty about certifications and standards: employers and employees may perceive standards and certifications as a liability rather than a useful opportunity.
    3. Facility and asset management is often an issue since there is the need to deal with large amount of assets and supplies in the production line.


What’s next?

Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe aims to support the digitising of companies and industries towards Industry 4.0. In this process, we want to give primary importance to people and their wellbeing in manufacturing workplaces. As our study tells us, the manufacturing sector still has several blind spots to overcome and then illuminate by adopting a user-centred approach to develop new technologies based on IoT, AI, robotics, big data and computer vision.

Designing human technologies that lead to productive and stimulating working environments is the main challenge of Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe and for this reason, the users and the users’ voice have great value for us. We have genuine interest to understand people’s involvement in organisations’ practices and routines and in the next months, we will be able to share the results of our preliminary research activities in this field within a whitepaper dedicated to Digital Manufacturing and its bright future.


With contributions and edits by Giorgio Sestili.