Beyond “digital”?

We are starting to find out more about our industrial use cases on DigiTOP. There’s lots of talk about “digital” – digital-twin, digital-manufacturing, and digital-learning (from my other work at the University). There are obviously plenty of human factors challenges in most things “digital” as our understanding of the impact of technological on users struggles to keep pace with advances in the technologies. Digital twin refers to a digital replica of a physical factory, in which processes can be simulated and improved – and findings can be moved from digital to physical or vice versa. This poses a lovely set of human factors challenges: What data do we need? How should it be captured? How should it be displayed? Is our digital twin valid for our application? What level of fidelity is important? Digital manufacturing refers more generally to our increasing use of computation in manufacturing systems, and concerns human factors issues such as allocation of function, human-robot collaboration, and how to optimise technologies to support productivity, health, wellbeing etc. Digital learning refers to the use of technology in education and learning.

My colleagues and I have begun to discuss when will we move beyond “digital”? That’s not a call for a return to “the good old days”, or a revival of the Arts and Crafts movement(!), but wondering when will digital be so integral or available to all of our activities that it becomes implicit, and no longer needs special attention? When is digital manufacturing simply “manufacturing”? The current focus on digital is necessary as we need to apply ourselves to address the human factors challenges we face in these sectors and in society more generally. This links to some of the anticipated outcomes of DigiTOP – normalising digital technologies, such that they are simply part of the toolkit available to manufacturers, who know how and when to use them with the best outcomes (for business and for human users).

So there may be a not-too-distant future where we don’t need the d-word. Or at least not quite as much.


Glyn Lawson
University of Nottingham

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