Imagine this: It’s 1980 and you’re ready for the new album from your favorite artist. You’ve been ready for a while: you’ve been listening to their last album, both sides, for years. You’ve read all the articles about the upcoming record. You line up on the day of release and, having saved your money for it, you snag one of only a handful of vinyl and run home.

Now imagine this: It’s 2022 and you open Spotify to find a new album by some artist dropped. You don’t need to remember the artist’s name. You can just ask Google to play the top song. You listen to it.

Maybe the thrill isn’t the same. But to achieve the same end (the song in your grasp) it took you so much less time.

In our personal lives, the exertion of real effort — the toil of daily tasks — has largely been edged out by automation and connected systems. We have to do much less; we have to wait much less.

This change, from physical purchase and manual effort to streaming with minimal effort, is a paradigm shift. You’ve experienced them in a lot of areas, no doubt. In industry terminology, you experienced production gains in orders of magnitude.

Paradigm shifts come with promises.

The Promises of Industrial Revolutions in Manufacturing

In the case of Industry 3.0, as process automation formed its core, the notion of a lights-out factory emerged. The idea was, simply, that humans didn’t need to toil in manufacturing or production. Efforts could be lessened.

At the same time, lean thinking focused on human-driven improvement processes, sometimes leads to slow adoption. Manufacturers would hold off on technology implementation until later iterations or versions of a solution arrived — the ones where the kinks had been smoothed.

Today, we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. In Industry 4.0, speed of innovation in digital technology is key to the ubiquitous connectivity and human/machine/system interactions that characterize this revolution.

The promises of human change and system disruption are grand; the potential that digital technologies, from artificial intelligence to AR/VR, have to alter our existence is definitional to the revolution.

Though it may be fast-moving and exciting — or perhaps because of that — manufacturing hasn’t found its footing with Industry 4.0 yet. Many manufacturing operations think in lean terms and are used to waiting for the technology in order to make the shift.

That makes sense to us. It can be difficult to move forward into the unknown. As engineers and operations leaders, we want to balance existing needs (which are served with existing technology, or even analog approaches) with pushing onward, into the new paradigm.

(As music lovers, we want to make sure we can still play our old records but also have a place for our CD player. We won’t toss that until we’ve got an mp3 player. And imagine leaping all the way to streaming — lacking ownership of the product altogether? That would seem like a big leap. We’d like to at least keep our downloads.)

Even those who do decide to embrace change and pursue Industry 4.0 may end up waiting for technology to lead. As occurred with Industry 3.0, technology-deterministic approaches could take 30 years to implement across manufacturing.

What’s Missing from Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 can lead us to a level of production efficiency we never imagined. And digital technology integration represents a massive step forward for factories. But the reality is, the promises of revolution rarely pan out.

That’s because, simply put, industrial revolutions have prioritized machines over people.

Even in Industry 4.0, which is putting humans back into the so-called lights-out factory and using them to do what they’re best at (innovate and problem-solve), human-centric management is lacking.

What’s missing from Industry 4.0 is the management framework needed to capitalize on the power of this moment. Executives need a framework that flips the script and finally prioritizes humans over machines.

But there’s good news. We think manufacturers can push beyond Industry 4.0, rather than waiting to catch up to it. To do so, they should build on the tenets of this revolution — like fast development and ubiquitous connectivity — with an Augmented Lean management framework, which is human-centric by nature.

Augmented Lean and Human-Centric Management

Augmented Lean is a framework based on the actual needs of industrial operators. The best ones make use of digital technologies to augment workers, not to chase efficiencies, dictate needs, or replace humans and lose access to the best innovation.

The effect of worker augmentation (vs. industrial automation) is immediate worker empowerment, and therefore, improved efficiencies. This is exactly what lean had hoped to achieve, but Augmented Lean helps achieve it without sacrificing sustainable, decentralized innovation.

It’s hard to imagine the potential results of such a framework when we’ve been so bound by technology. But we have no issue at all imagining the problem. Whether 1980, 1990, or today, you want that album right now. The problem was yours all along. (Imagine how soon we could have been streaming if you were at the center of the solution!)

Bottom line: Today’s companies need to design systems for people as a critical differentiator.

Neglecting to do so, and proceeding with the Industry 3.0-plus-lean mentality (only newly applied to Industry 4.0) will leave innovation at its source.

You’ll fall behind.

We believe in a bottom-up world.

The Bottom-Up Approach is Simpler Than You Think

More good news. Digital technologies, themselves, are human-focused by design. That means they’re easy to embrace and implement bottom up. So you don’t have to sacrifice the best technology in order to make use of the Augmented Lean framework.

In fact, Augmented Lean requires democratization of technology: a core principle of human-centricity is low barriers to access. Solutions and data should be accessible where they’re needed.

Consider what it actually looks like to implement solutions bottom up. You do a Gemba walk. You find a problem. You use what you have to solve that problem, for the person who has it. It just makes sense to enable frontline engineers and operators with adaptability; that allows for continuous improvement.

Here’s what it looks like in the promised land. (This one is actually a promise that can be kept if manufacturers embrace both Industry 4.0 and Augmented Lean.)

You’re seeing orders of magnitude production gains in a fully digital industrial operation. It’s all happening! How?

You’ve put frontline operators at the lead of factory operations — as they should be. They oversee ops with apps that can run and adjust production practices. Those apps are built by engineers with no software training (just great insider knowledge of the problem). They’re no longer using poka-yoke for error-proofing just one thing — they’re using digital technologies to error-proof with extensibility and scalability. No-code, semi-autonomous robots are helping where they’re needed, because they’re easy to configure, operate, and monitor. Technicians adjust hardware and troubleshoot, monitor, and fix anomalies identified by machines and applications.

For early adopters, this is already happening. They’re taking the opportunity of Industry 4.0 and Augmented Lean and using human-centricity to push into the new paradigm.

To accelerate this vision and be a part of the real revolution — one where manufacturing makes, moves, and shakes the world again — operations leaders need to prioritize the worker.

Empower your frontline workers with Tulip

Learn more about how worker augmentation can drive frontline operations improvements

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