With a smart future edging closer and closer, manufacturing stands to be one of the most heavily affected industries. While some may associate this change with disruption, a leading UK-based materials handling equipment provider says that analogue tools and human input will remain key elements in both the creation and the long term success of a smart factory future.

Midland Pallet Trucks, a West Midlands-based provider of hand pallet trucks, lift platforms, moving skates, and a wide range of other materials handling equipment, believes that fears of complete upheaval are unfounded. The firm says that analogue tools and human knowledge will both play a critical role in the digital shift, with manual processes and decision making, alongside operation of digitally-enhanced machinery, being supported through the use of analogue tools.

The company cites two primary reasons why the use of analogue tools will remain a ‘go to’ method for operational success. Firstly, the human element must always be factored into plans for a smart factories; the ability for skilled workers to manually operate equipment for optimal results in particularly complex moves, for example.

Secondly, a smart factory future will not be an instantaneous change. The notable skills gap which currently exists means that a smart factory future is a long term change, with a significant ‘hand over’ period where analogue and digital concepts will be used in unison to fully develop a safe, effective, efficient  and smart environment.

“We often hear that a smart future is on the way, but what many don’t realise is that the essential building blocks of industry 4.0 are already widely available,” says Phil Chesworth, Managing Director of Midland Pallet Trucks. “Of course, many operational processes can and indeed will be automated eventually using the latest connected technologies, but materials handling, and many other complex areas of warehouse management, will largely continue to be supported through analogue.

“It’s not just about supporting the skilled human decision makers on-site, but also about cost. Quite simply, growing businesses don’t want to be paying out for IoT-enabled handling equipment when analogue gets the job done.”

Smart factories are on the rise around the world, with traditional machinery beginning to be replaced with connected, Internet of Things-enabled solutions which automate many of the more predictable processes within the workplace. However, smart factories are rarely anticipated to be fully automated environments, and are instead considered to be collaborative spaces which succeed through the combined use of both digital and analogue tools, along with skilled human activity.

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