On the political campaign trail, automation discussions sound familiar. Fears of machines replacing people have abounded since the first Industrial Revolution, and during the fourth massive change to industrial production (Industry 4.0), those cries are particularly noticeable.

Decades from now, those concerns will likely seem quaint. Rather than eliminating humans from manufacturing, embracing the steam engine created countless new opportunities and careers. Electrification had a similar impact, replacing jobs for coal-shoveling brute labor with new positions operating equipment. Computer numeric control (CNC) technology eliminated some hand-crafted metal cutting, but it created opportunities for programmers, engineers, and machinists willing to learn a new way of doing things.

Connected, automated equipment brings up fears of robots loading machining centers 24/7 with humans stopping by occasionally to perform maintenance. However, the reality provides hope for human interaction. Even with artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and neural networks, modern machinery can’t replace the experience, creativity, and adaptability of workers. Tesla Motors, for example, couldn’t hit production targets when it relied on robotic assembly, getting the Model 3 electric car to the masses only after hiring more people to staff assembly lines.

In this Automation/Industry 4.0 Target Guide, manufacturing technology providers offer automation as a way to handle an ongoing worker shortage, not eliminate human interaction on the shop floor.

Certainly, automating functions will eliminate specific jobs. However, Industry 4.0 technologies enable greater flexibility and efficiency. Companies should be able to use the excess capacity created by increased production to expand into new markets and products – something that happened with each of the previous Industrial Revolutions.

The way forward requires new skills, new ways of approaching challenges, and new tools – many of which are covered in these pages. As with Industries 1.0 through 3.0, the latest wave is happening, despite some politicians’ resistance, making it vital to embrace that change and prepare for it.

Elizabeth, Robert, Eric, & Michelle