Benefits of digitalising Australia’s workforce

Industry consultant Kumar Parakala address an audience at Siemens’ Digitalize 2017 conference.

Though many companies believe they are up with the times, industry mentor Kumar Parakala insists the digital age has escaped them. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports from Siemens’ Digitalize 2017 summit.

Manufacturers should no longer be preparing for the next technological transformation, a leading industry consultant has warned.

The fourth industrial revolution is already here and, if you let it, will pass you by in the blink of an eye.

“I used to believe that we were at the forefront of this digitial revolution and we all knew what we were talking about,” Kumar Parakala of GHD told an audience at Siemens’ Digitalize 2017 conference, held in Sydney.

“But we were so wrong. I wanted to get to the bottom of what this digitalisation is all about and became an advisor to some of the leading businesses in the world.”

Wind the clock back 40 years and the technology that resides in the latest smart phone used today would have, collectively, set you back close to $1 million.

Considering this digitalisation of the modern world, Parakala, who is known as a global digital leader, suggests industry is still pulling the wool over its eyes – creeping off to a dark corner where it imagines the world slows down and doesn’t change.

“Some of [those leading companies] are out there, trying to transpond other businesses,” he said. “However, if someone is telling you that they have already figured it out, let me tell you that they are in a complete state of ignorance.”

Social readiness

In the event’s opening address, Siemens CEO Jeff Connolly called for a change of attitude towards Australian manufacturing, and insists digitalising the workforce will help Australia tap into the global supply chain.

“What we want to do is move Australia away from cynicism towards a ‘why-not attitude’,” Connolly said. “The Industry 4.0 approach is not only about technology but is also about social readiness [to adapt].

“With the digital world, we finally have an opportunity in Australia to [discard] the tyranny of distance and connect Australia with anywhere on the planet.

“Some people say that tapping into the global supply chain isn’t real and that you cannot do it from Australia. Collaboration is not necessarily something that we do [well] in Australia but the world today is different and we have to become a part of that ‘collaboration’ culture.”

Discussing the role of Industry 4.0, Connolly said he believes the digital revolution has the ability to change the mentality of the industrial workforce as much as its processes.

Siemens CEO Jeff Connolly (left) and the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre’s managing director Jens Goennemann discuss the industry
Siemens CEO Jeff Connolly (left) and the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre’s managing director Jens Goennemann discuss the industry

Joining Connolly, managing director for the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, Jens Goennemann, discussed the role manufacturing plays on the global stage.

“The challenge is for companies to put their money towards the future and innovation,” he said. “Manufacturing is a broad church – where the other sectors are very distinct, manufacturing is a holistic sector.

“Limiting manufacturing only to production or assembling something is far too shortsighted. We must see, support and foster change to go away from the production mindset and to go up and down the value chain.

“All the power houses in the world depend on manufacturing. We cannot rely on commodities because we use them up, so we need to rely on manufacturing and make it ready for the future.”

Cost of adoption

One of the major drawbacks of digitalisation in the minds of the industry is the perception that technology is too complex, as well as the cost of adoption and the security risks that go hand in hand.

“Working in the energy sector, I can tell you that cyber security risks are real,” said Stefan Bungart, Siemens’ head of digitalisation for Power Generation Services.      

“You may or may not be aware of the number of cyber attacks you are facing every single day in your business.

“There are people out there in our industry who are experimenting with what they can do with your power plants. They are probably sitting somewhere else, and are governed by somebody else.

“What we are seeing are people who experiment with ways to stop a power plant working and who want to see whether they can control it. Some are even seeing if they can make it blow up.”

Consider a generator for a moment – an enormous rotating mass – that needs to be perfectly balanced to operate safely at high speeds.

“Moving at thousands of rotations per second, the precision that is needed to stop that crashing is mind-blowing,” Bungart said.

“Now imagine a hacker is trying to influence a tiny parameter in that system. We have seen this in a power plant in Russia where a software error led to a power station blowing up.

“Cyber security has become a powerhouse for our customers and also for those who make it. While you think that cyber security is mainly a network-based problem, it is not.

“Most cyber security attacks are socially engineered. Imagine what would happen if we just switch off our power plants unexpectedly. What would happen? The whole system would collapse.”

By applying different technologies in an end-to-end way – from design right through to everything that automation encompasses – Bungart emphasises the importance of staying abreast of modern technology.

“As a business, we work across so many different industries that have so many different requirements, it is important that we build ourselves an infrastructure that doesn’t kill us in cost and allows us to build very different, newer stations on top of it,” he added.

Digitalising transport

During a seminar on intelligent transport, MRX Technologies’ chief engineer, Kevin Winchester, explained that inspection gauges used on trains 100 years ago are still relied upon today – where operators walk up and down the train to approve the condition of a locomotive’s wheels.

While maintenance has always been viewed as a cost rather than an opportunity, he said the digital engineers at Perth-based MRX are bringing the railway industry into the 21st century.

“We have really managed to transform their maintenance activities and, because they are spending less time maintaining their trains, it means their trains spend less time in the depot for manual inspection and are out there on revenue service with the customers,” Winchester added.

siemens-conferenceIn the world that is 3D printing, the food industry is creating artificial corn, for example, which brings about once unimagined questions of the future of food and hospitality.

Likewise, in Russia, construction companies are building homes in 24 hours with the latest and fastest 3D printing capabilities.

“What does it do to our building industry?” Parakala said. “And, if you can build something in 24 hours, what does that mean for property prices?”

Across the transport sector, all modes of public travel are experiencing the impact of digital technology too.

In California, testing is being carried out for something called Hyperloop, a ground-based transport network that is said to travel at airline speeds, for a fraction of the cost.

The private taxi service Uber is also seeking opportunities in air travel, while rail networks are benefitting from the digitalisation of its trains, as it has seen via MRX.

“They are not all here today but, in the next 10 years, these are some of the things that are coming,” Parakala continued. “Major changes are on the horizon and we are right at the beginning of them.

“If you don’t take the time out to focus on things, information just passes over and that is exactly what is happening in this era of digital disruption.”

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