Work is what we do to feed, clothe and house ourselves. Work in the last 100 years has changed so dramatically that it may not be recognizable as work. What started as simple mechanical automation to reduce the labor required to make things like clothing, has evolved over the years into the daydream of producing goods completely without human effort. Japan had one of the first “lights out” manufacturing centers decades ago. Machines building other machines.
Once electric motors and electricity became cheap and widespread, man’s ability to produce goods expanded exponentially. We can say that Work 5.0 would have to be subdivided into 5.0B for the invention of the assembly line method. While it is possible to apply the assembly line method to many products, generally speaking, it is based on the use of conveyors or some other powered means of moving products in a line.
We can define Work 5.0C under the “electric age” based on the creation of electrically controlled automatic production technology. The humble relay was used to turn things on and off automatically and to protect valuable equipment from overloading. My hat’s off to the guy who came up with that one. Relay logic was harnessed into ever-more complex configurations until it became almost impossible to troubleshoot.
The shift to Work 6.0 would have to be due to the emergence of electronics for the control of automatic equipment. The earliest system of programmable computation, the vacuum tube powered Eniac, set the stage for all later electronic problem solving. The most familiar, the Programmable Controller, was the electronic leap to make relay hardware obsolete for control. The PLC was only one of several similar types of control that emerged from the earliest implementations of electronics. Computer Numerical Controls for machine tools, process controllers, motion controllers and robot controllers have all followed the same path. A programmable hardware platform, a descriptive programming language and complementary I/O hardware are developed to solve a common class of control problems.
What nobody saw coming was the fact that the semiconductor industry was doubling it’s computing power every 18 months. Within a few years processor technology, operating systems and programming languages caught up with, and surpassed, the requirements of most industrial control systems.
Work 7.0 connects the common industrial controller or computer platform for control, to networked data systems. These new systems allow dramatic performance enhancements all across the manufacturing spectrum; continuous monitoring, statistical quality control, preventive maintenance, scheduling, resource management, order fulfillment and enhancements that haven’t been thought of yet.
Regardless if it’s Industrie 4.0 or Work 7.0, the next decade of industry is going to be amazing.