Revive Old Discussions! Socio-technical Challenges for Small and Medium Enterprises within Industry 4.0
European Society for Socially Embedded Technologies (EUSSET)
We may currently perceive an era of massive digitalization within the sector of manufacturing. Summarized as the ‘Industry 4.0’ vision—as a complex connection between machines, materials, locations, and companies implemented as fully-automatic cyber-physical systems—the way in which manufacturing has been performed will rapidly change, in theory. In practice, however, the outlined configuration of such a vision is not an appropriate option for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In particular, SMEs and their employees, with their historically-grown experiences and work capacity, secure economic success and need to be put in the spotlight of Industry 4.0 concepts and technologies. Given that the employee is the central success factor within SMEs, the practical adaption of fully-automated and technology-driven concepts raises a variety of socio-technical issues which need to be addressed. Based on an expert workshop with managers and business consultants of SMEs, an interview study with representatives from the German labor union (IG Metall), and the employers’ associations, we present current social issues, areas of conflict, and socio-technical challenges SMEs must face. In this exploratory paper, we summarize several research areas that deserve further attention within the next years and which should be considered when conducting studies on SMEs.