Getting to Know Your Co-Bots: Humans’ Role in Industry 4.0

Man and robot shake hands with sunset in background, symbolizing cooperation and harmony

It’s the stuff of science fiction: Smart, super-strong robots infiltrate human homes and workplaces. Their efficiency and power render their organic counterparts obsolete, and life as we know it vanishes into thin air.

While we most certainly already live in the future, smart manufacturing — or Industry 4.0 — is creating a climate quite different from that of sci-fi AI terrors.

What Is Industry 4.0?

Call it smart manufacturing, call it the digital revolution — however it’s branded, this sweeping transformation of modern industry leaves manufacturers a simple choice. Jump on board, or be left behind.

The new technologies, networks, data, and smart capabilities available to power today’s facilities are creating an entirely new climate for every inch of the manufacturing process. From supply chain management to automated CNC systems, these intelligent, flexible systems offer complete connection, high adaptability, and unmatched performance accuracy — all with rapid-fire response.

Working With Robots

But won’t this new technology replace human workers? In a word, no.

As of September 2018, the World Economic Forum forecasted that by 2022, robotics and AI technology will actually be on pace to create over 130 million jobs. That’s nearly twice the number of workers predicted to be displaced by new tech. So while these innovations are making manufacturing operations more efficient, more accurate, and more streamlined, they’re hardly filling the same roles as current employees.

In fact, the concept of humans and machines working in symbiotic harmony lies at the heart of Industry 4.0’s projected success. The idea is far from new — gone are the days of typewriters and slide rules and hand-kept ledgers; we have computers now. And as far as the folks at Rethink Robotics are concerned, those computers can be our friends.

Rethink’s collaborative robots work safely side-by-side with human workers, and operate with a small footprint. They’re trainable, flexible, and readily repurposed to manage different tasks — the very definition of “easy to work with.” The designs feature force-sensing joints and seven degrees of freedom for maximum maneuverability; these “co-bots” load, lift, pick, and package, no questions asked. Plus, they’re kinda cute.

People’s Role in the New Workforce

Studies show that Industry 4.0 is emerging via a full network of technologies. The capabilities of individual tools and innovative devices are finding their footing in a whole new world built on cloud computing, smart sensors, predictive analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile technology, blockchain, and more. Currently, no fewer than 11 major digital innovations are reshaping our work.

By leveraging the power of smart manufacturing, the workforce is facing a huge opportunity: upskilling. This means that human skills are not under threat. In fact, they are more important than ever.

Goodbye dull, dirty, monotonous work — with the help of accessible robotics, the freezing-cold pallet stacking, mind-numbing can loading, and tedious packaging tasks disappear. The human worker, freed from more tedious jobs, can now acquire more training, taking on new responsibilities and learning new skills. “Outside-the-box” talents like management skills, creative thinking, and interpersonal skills take center stage.

Outfitted with infinitely more sophisticated resources, we can now leverage time more effectively and take advantage of new opportunities, new perks, and a whole new quality of life.


Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/

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