Sandra Mattsson, forskare RISE, Research Institutes of Sweden

Automatisering, kultur och att låta en liten teknikförändring bana vägen

Publicerad: 20 August 2021

The need in the Swedish manufacturing industry is clear: there is an incredible amount of knowledge within the own production, but no or little knowledge of how it becomes as efficient or attractive as possible. There are very good products and solutions in Sweden because we are flexible and innovative, see for example the Gnosjö spirit where several companies share customers and invent new products to meet customers' new needs. In my co-assessments within Robotlyftet, I have seen new products such as chili sauce in Skåne, electric motorcycles in Kungsbacka, exclusive frozen ready-made food in Billdal, a printing company looking for digitization solutions to be able to print large prints in Helsingborg - the development and their expected expansion is enormous. In fact, it is impossible for them to expand as the market demands without automating, digitizing, and expanding production. What is missing are automation and / or digitization solutions.

It is the employees and their knowledge that is the key. Without the employees in production, digitization and / or automation solutions are nothing. Many companies, especially small and medium-sized companies, work very manually and have difficulty seeing how they can start working with automation and digitization. Going from zero to hundred is really difficult and can feel almost impossible. Especially small and medium-sized companies do not have time to think about future solutions since they are fully occupied with what is happening today. In addition, they do not work automatically today; many of the solutions are completely manual and the companies rely on employees to do monotonous, sometimes dangerous and definitely ergonomically harmful work during a large part of their working day.

How do we get our employees to understand what the idea of ​​the solution is? I think it is incredibly interesting that we in Sweden seem to be so bad at culture. It's something that sits in the walls, they say, but it seems to be something that not many people can talk about. This undeniably seems to be one of the most difficult things; to understand how culture works and what it is. However, we often talk about problems with employees who do not understand or are resistant to changes; we may be talking about the gap between management and operators. Culture, norms, and values ​​are nothing new; there is a lot of research in the field and it is possible to measure, study and take on culture, norms, and group dynamics. It is "just" about knowing how it works and what it means. That's the difference between what we laugh at on the coffee break and what we do not laugh at. It may sound simple and banal, but the unwritten rules, and norms, are incredibly important for the group's interaction and thus the acceptance of a new automation or digitization solution.

There are many good examples, for example Tillväxtverket has many good films on its website where we can follow companies such as Accelent, Lundqvist Trävaru, Bror Tonsjö, Skandia Elevator and Fristad plast. What I think is so good about the films is that the companies describe in their own words how their production has changed in their digitalisation development. It is so clear how a solution, with a well-thought-out and established solution, develops the company in more ways than one. Not only do they go from zero to maybe 20%, but they will also go much further than that. Their solutions are, for example, to automate a process, implement an order system that is linked to all materials in production and RFID tags that follow the clothes in the laundry. Such a solution simplifies more than just what is intended because it also reduces administration, for example, increases the ability to track materials and products and to streamline logistics flows, for example. In addition, their stories are very powerful so that other companies can directly follow all the complexities that their journey has entailed.

I think all companies can go from zero to at least seventy-five with very simple means. Many of the examples of companies that have succeeded have, of course, worked for a long time with technological changes and with their culture, but they have also come much further than they themselves thought with just simple installations. It's not about changing everything; it's about changing something and also changing the culture and norms around change - that's what creates new behaviours and new ways of working. A small change in technology creates much more, which means that the employees begins to think and act in a new way. That is what drives change, not technology itself. And that is why man is such an important part of the solution.

There really is an incredible strength in the product knowledge, innovative power, and production we have in Sweden today. But we can do much better and above all we must dare and support each other in this journey forward. We must dare to ask the stupid questions, such as what does it really mean to have a cloud, what can a collaborative application do in my flow or what does an attractive job with us mean? The most important thing of all is the people in the production. Because without them as experts in production, our flows are nothing.

Don't miss the webinarium on the 26th of August at 12 concerning automation levels and the book Smart Automation. Read more and sign up here.

Published 2021-08-20  |  Authored by Sandra Mattsson, forskare