The impact of the revolution in the nature of manufacturing on the work that people do is not yet clear. Trends included in the D4I notion relate to increased automation, increased use of analytics and sensor data to inform decisions about design and manufacture, and a reduction of reliance on ‘craft-based’ skills. Future technologies will need to ensure that humans remain ‘in the loop’ – able to intervene when systems fail, and complete maintenance and oversight tasks, whilst being having sufficient workload to maintain their attention and ability to have full situation awareness. In addition, the way that we design a workplace in the future will increasingly need to accommodate the sometimes contradictory needs of people and technologies – for example – a machine may operate most effectively at 40 degrees C, but humans may not be able to perform in this temperature; a ‘human free’ factory will be able to have different ways of managing extraction and dust control, but how will maintenance operations be able to be carried out.

The future workplace may in fact become a ‘hostile environment’ for human operators, and paradigms that have previously been used in the nuclear and offshore industries may need to be applied to the design of future work systems. The environmental impact and sustainability of work will also need to be considered. The training of cognitive and physical skills required to work in the future industrial system will also need to be considered.