Bridgestone South Africa

Future skills in the tyre manufacturing industry

Sep 27, 2019

Corporate executives and those on the shop floor will have to skill up as the industry realigns itself to the Digital Age.

By Bridgestone SA

Various related trends are inexorably driving profound changes in the way that tyre manufacturers operate—and the kinds of skills they demand of their employees. Corporate executives and machine operators alike face the tough challenge of acquiring new skills.

The trends driving these changes are all related to the increasing digitalisation of both society and business. This digitalisation is not only revolutionising how we interact socially, it is changing the way business is conducted and how people work. In tandem, machines are being designed differently: sensors, machine learning, artificial intelligence and related technologies, all backed up by the limitless (in practical terms) computer power of the cloud, mean that they are getting smarter and capable of greater levels of autonomous action.

Welcome to the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For executives in tyre manufacturing, the new skills they must acquire will not differ greatly from those required of leaders in every industry. Now, more than ever, leaders will need to have a clear idea of where the organisation is going—but at a time when obtaining that picture has never been more difficult. A related challenge is to ensure that company strategies are aligned with a socio-economic environment constantly in flux.

From a strategic point of view, too, there is a move from the traditional short-term focus on the bottom line to a longer term view that balances profits with sustainability.

When it comes to management, there are a host of new skills to acquire. Work processes are becoming less discrete, and work environments are more diverse and can span many countries. The ability to manage cross-skilled teams from different cultures and ways of life is becoming essential.

The key output of digitalisation, we now realise, is data—lots of it. Whereas once executives learned how to acquire data, now they need to know how to identify the data that matters, and how to translate it into actionable business insights.

And on the shop floor, too

These are changes that require some radical rethinking of what executives do and what skills they need. The same revolution is changing the way that employees on the manufacturing shop floor work.

A key change here is, as noted above, the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The advent of smart, sensor-rich machines means that smart factories are now becoming a reality—in fact, Bridgestone has already begun rolling out smart factories in Europe, and the rest of the world will eventually follow suit. In this new world, machine operators will now longer be physically operating machines, and participating in the actual “heavy lifting” that is an inevitable part of the manufacturing process. Rather, their work will rely much more on cognitive and trouble-solving skills. Whereas the old-style machine operator had to have a certain manual dexterity to operate a machine that worked mechanically, he or she now needs to be skilled in how to operate computers and even write code.

For example, an operator used to have to manually set a machine for a new tyre size on the production line. Now a smart machine will automatically pick up the new size from a barcode as the new tyre begins its journey, and make the necessary adjustments to produce a tyre with the new specifications. The operator’s job will be to understand the process at a very deep level, and be able to troubleshoot any problems that occur.

In general, automation will increase greatly, and all the new skills will be related to making that automation more successful. All in all, it’s a move from motor skills to cognitive skills.

Bridgestone South Africa is at the beginning of this journey at its Brits manufacturing facility as we invest in new, digital and smart equipment to compete globally. One of the outward signs of the change is that machine operators are now known as equipment owners to indicate their new role as overseers of the process rather than one of its moving parts. They have to meet a whole new set of demands relating to problem-solving on the job, and also taking over some of the maintenance needed to ensure that their equipment remains in working order for longer.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that although we all know that our educational system seems incapable of turning out young people with the right skills, all is not lost. Everybody, certainly in the younger generations, is extremely skilful at using smartphones, and this at least provides a good foundation for this new kind of work.

Both executives and shop-floor workers face a common challenge, one that might be their toughest: unlearning the old way of doing things in order to position themselves for this brave new world.

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Bridgestone South Africa

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