Industry of the future

Industries across the world are being disrupted by the fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0 will have an impact on job roles and skills. Occupations we haven’t even dreamed of will emerge in the coming years, just as happened at the dawn of each previous industrial revolution.

At the end of the 1700s, the first industrial revolution ushered in the mechanisation of manufacturing processes, steam-powered machines and standardised manufacturing techniques. A second industrial revolution started around the 1870s when large-scale manufacturing was transformed by electrically powered assembly lines, which in turn lead to cost-effective mass manufacturing of goods. The introduction of programmable logic control systems in the 1960s saw the emergence of a third industrial revolution, characterised by greater efficiencies and improvements to quality due to automation of much of the manufacturing process.

This time, Industry 4.0 will be characterised by the speed of technology development, the convergence of physical systems with big data, and the customisation of services that will be designed for individuals. In Australia, the effects of automated transport and logistic systems are already being seen. Driverless cars and trucks, automated shipping terminals, remotely piloted aircraft, and auto-haul railways, as well as various software systems, are completing tasks that less than a decade ago humans were doing.

Operations Centre

Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre

AIS is continually looking at new ways to shape and design the skills for Industry 4.0. We recently visited Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth to review the emerging technologies and workforce skills used across Rio Tinto’s remote and autonomous mining, rail and shipping operations.

Rio Tinto has hundreds of workers, thousands of kilometres of road and rail networks, and millions of tonnes of iron ore to move. The range of skills required to undertake this mammoth task is comparable to the movement of thousands of shipping containers through an intermodal transport network, the movement of commercial aircraft in and out of a major city, or keeping a public transport network of trains, trams and buses moving.

As the effects of automation rapidly increase across Australian industries, operator roles will shift more towards system control/management. The next generation of transport and logistics workers may never know what it’s like to physically drive a train, fly a jet, reverse a truck, or steer a ship. They are just as likely to be tracking the movement of an individual shipping container as it makes it way from Asia, Europe or the Americas through to an Australian port, and then follow through the supply chain to its eventual customer destination. As Australia prepares for Industry 4.0, it is an opportune time to think of where we have come from, and where we are going next.