03/24/2022

Martina Miliani

Interview with Gualtiero Fantoni

Gualtiero Fantoni teaches Innovative Production Processes at the Engineering Department of the University of Pisa, is the founder of Errequadro, a spin-off company of the Pisa University, and of the startup Zerynth.

“We don’t make the same mistakes”

Gualtiero Fantoni knows both the corporate and the academic world well. In his answers he outlines what were the limits of companies in adopting the 4.0 paradigm, errors or shortcomings that in Industry 5.0, focused on a human-centric and sustainable production dimension, could recur.

On the one hand, the number of university teachers is not sufficient to guarantee training for the entire workforce that would need to acquire the new emerging skills. On the other hand, a push in this sense is still slow to arrive from the companies, which from Fantoni’s words seem to have suffered from a lack of planning. Not having improved the “processes before digitizing them”, waste has also been digitized, which paradoxically could increase in the race induced by the “fashion for sustainability” and “electrification at any cost”. A race that must also deal with the skills of the employees.

Why is a human-centered view of technology necessary?

Technology is man-made for man and serves to improve life, make it safer and reduce
the burden of physical and cognitive efforts to which he would otherwise be subjected. For this reason, both Industry 4.0 and 5.0 see man at the center.

On the other hand, the dream or rather the nightmare of the factory with the lights out theorized by CIM (Computer-Integrated Manufacturing) has proved to make no sense. man is fundamental on production lines, in warehouses, and in office activities, where real intelligence is needed. The employee represents not only two hands that assemble, but rather two eyes that look and a brain capable of analyzing what works and what does not work, and of reconstructing the causal chains in order to determine the ultimate reasons for failures or to identify possibilities. for improvement.

Is there already this awareness in Italy?

Following the very important Calenda plan, the country system made the mistake of inverting the staff training process and that of purchasing the technologies necessary to improve the design, management and production systems of companies. The Calenda plan has in fact anticipated the purchase of technologies with respect to learning them, therefore machinery has often been purchased in areas of production where these did not make the real difference, investments have been made without thinking about how to integrate them, we have equipped ourselves with tools that no one was able to perform well.

And then the processes did not improve before digitizing them, so often waste too, and especially waste, was digitized without reaching the true benefits of digital.

Are we prepared for Industry 5.0?

It is important that we do not make the same mistakes: there is a real risk that we run behind the fashion of sustainability, of electrification at all costs and of the circular economy, looking for excellent premises that are actually pejorative if we analyze the system in its together.

Decommissioning functioning machinery only because they are powered by non-renewable sources as the prerogative of new machinery whose construction impact could be far higher than the benefits achieved is a possible trend that resembles measuring the amount of plastic in water bottles, and not think that the real impact on the planet is given by the transport of water from distant regions or countries, not from the material, which is moreover subject to a high rate of recycling.

The ecological vision of Industry 5.0 cannot then be seen as a search for efficiency per se.

It cannot, because otherwise we would be wrong to frame the problem and then tackle it. Industry 5.0 tells us that, in a modern vision of doing business, the turnover objectives must be considered equal, therefore linked to productivity, those of sustainability (in a broad sense) and environmental impact, those of employee welfare and those of related to product and process innovation. The model to which we must be inspired is therefore that of ambidextrous organizations, which make the most of available resources by opening up to new opportunities, and which make data their beacon.

The objectives and key results therefore not only measure productivity, turnover and margins but also the relationship between value produced and impact generated. If on the one hand the Tayloristic model of production paid off in the twentieth century and the optimization of operations was the only leitmotiv, on the other the strategy based on the increase of volumes, on the continuous launch of new products and on the increasing brand extensions is no longer sustainable. Furthermore, the pursuit of further efficiency gains, without radical rethinking of technologies and their integration, becomes extremely difficult.

Therefore, data and their analysis still play a central role in Industry 5.0. How can IOT, Big Data and AI guarantee the resilience of production processes?

Acquiring data quickly, effectively, completely and intelligently, and knowing how to transform them in the shortest possible time into information with high added value useful for making better decisions is certainly the starting point, not that of
I arrive for an industry.

Unfortunately, even in the case of the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artifcial Intelligence there are two approaches, both of which are dangerous: on the one hand, the fideistic one that leads us to think that technologies alone are salvific and can solve all the problems that the company must face. on the other, the Luddite approach according to which the new and technologies are enemies of the occupation and will make us stupid slaves to machines.

I would say that neither faction nor the other leads to anything positive and sustainable growth. It is only by knowing the technologies, their strengths, their costs and the risks of failure that you can make a conscious and correct use of them and integrate them in a working environment where they become enablers for critical thinking.

Is the Italian university ready to provide the necessary skills to keep up with the new paradigm?

The myth of the distance between the industrial world and the university has some traits of truth, but the university world in this case can only be attributed to slowness, not proactivity. There are courses that have been dealing with sustainability issues for at least 10 years, there are projects on the disposal of WEEE (Electrical and Electronic Equipment, ndA) that have
at least 20. Today for a variety of reasons everyone wakes up and asks for specialized courses and skills. But to do one or a specialist you need basic training first and content on vertical topics then.

What is different is the one concerning the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce on the issues of environmental sustainability, but also of digital, of Industry 4.0 enabling technologies. In these cases the university can do little as the teaching staff is underpowered and the incentives for this type of training are absent, therefore the training of workers and managers falls completely on the shoulders of teachers who do it in a deconstructed and limited way. a low number of hours.

Moreover, sustainability or the circular economy are not exactly the same as mathematics or physics taught in university courses: often there is not even a recognized model on the basis of which to calculate the environmental impacts or deltas that can be had by comparing two processes. Therefore it is necessary to understand what companies and policy makers are asking from the academy: take courses on something not yet well defined (and we could even stay on this), do them tomorrow and do them without having ever supported you in the past. I would say that the conditions for a fruitful collaboration are not there yet.

How much does the social and ecological impact of new technologies take into account in the training of future engineers?

Surely the engineers are exposed to new technologies, but the drivers of choice have always been oriented towards productivity (time and costs) and product quality. There are few cases (chemical engineering and environmental engineering were the first) in which the engineering degree courses are equipped with courses dedicated to the analysis of impacts, the study of the life cycle of a product in terms of footprint, etc. . The reason is simple: in a limited number of hours of teaching and study, especially specialist, what the market asks for is privileged. And I can assure you that the pressure from businesses in this direction is still low.

Civil society overestimates the reactivity of the industrial system and underestimates the difficulties of remaining competitive on the market when only a few adopt sustainable models that perhaps also bring down productivity along with impacts. The role of the university is, however, to welcome the demands of society, make them their own and raise the cultural level or awareness of its students who will then become workers, managers, entrepreneurs and decision makers so that they can be the lever of change. deep. It will therefore be a very long process.

Did it happen to you instead to hold continuous training courses in the company?

Training company personnel is always very important for a university professor who is seen by degree course students as the custodian of absolute knowledge, while in adult education this gap is reduced and workers or managers challenge you on real problems in which to test the theories and models. Continuous training on Industry 4.0 was full of ideas and very formative for me too, who as a teacher I enriched the teaching materials and improved the contents and made the material to be learned more fluid and usable.

What about 5.0?

So, I’ve already done some courses where we integrated human and environmental resources within the paradigm, and I think we should work on entrepreneurs and managers before the entire workforce. It is the management that sets the high-level objectives that consider parameters of resource consumption and environmental impact, it is the direction that makes change and that can trigger a transformation necessary for future generations.

Only by integrating technologies and data (Industry 4.0) with the objectives of sustainability (economic of the enterprises, social of the workers and of the environment) it is possible to find an absolute optimum that achieves the three objectives at the same time.

#industry #Technology #Innovation

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