Harnessing automation in new ways: The future of manufacturing depends on it

  • By Mary Ramsey

By Mary Ramsey

For dozens of years, automation has revolutionized manufacturing around the world. Companies leverage automation technology to increase productivity, eliminate variation in products, improve quality, increase speed, and prevent injuries and accidents.

Manufacturing, in the U.S. and around the world, is poised for a step change that will forever alter the way we produce goods and services. Are we ready to create our own future?

We live in a world that is constantly evolving, and the future of manufacturing rests on our ability to advance technology to keep pace with global demands. Rapid-fire development in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are giving us the opportunity to pair human capital with technology in new and exciting ways. While manufacturing was once a series of simple, repetitive tasks done by humans, automation has taken over those roles and allowed workers to advance their skills and develop more fulfilling, engaging professions. Productivity has skyrocketed, and quality has dramatically improved, which allows companies to stay competitive in the marketplace.

The age of automation brings infinite opportunities. We can improve upon traditional control systems while maintaining the integrity, safety, and security of operations; and we can leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect disparate data and correlate it to anticipate problems through predictive and preventive measures.

With each opportunity comes challenges to improve and maintain safety and cybersecurity within manufacturing operations. Critical applications and infrastructure, such as power and water, face increasingly difficult demands to harden their security and ensure the safety of their employees and the communities that they serve.

The role of consensus-developed standards in this new world cannot be overstated—standards that industry develops and believes in will enable us to navigate these open interoperability technologies safely and securely.

In addition to the standards that identify the specifications and best practices necessary to leverage new technology, we will also need to invest in our human capital. Our companies are facing significant skill gaps—we are losing experienced employees to retirement, and we are asking new employees to quickly and efficiently learn existing processes along with cutting edge and next-generation technologies.

This strain on the workforce results in an ever-increasing need for quality real-world training and assessment programs. Comprehensive training paths, along with certificates and certifications in critical areas like safety and security, are invaluable tools for industry. These programs enable companies to quickly measure readiness, and they offer individuals an opportunity to evolve their skill sets to match the documented needs of industry.

ISA has been the trusted advisor in standards-based training and certification for decades, and we intend to lead the way in developing and promoting these training and assessment programs that companies need. We invite you and your companies to partner with us on this journey.

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About The Authors


Mary Ramsey is the executive director of ISA.