What is Industry 4.0? Are you ready for it?

Date: April 7, 2016

What is Industry 4.0? Are you ready for it?

Future of Manufacturing

The Industrial Revolution changed everything. Manufacturing displaced everything else as the center of economies, of political power, and even of living. Populations moved into cities and adopted a lifestyle based on the hourly work offered by factories. This transformation improved the standard of living in many ways; the average worker was now 40 or 50 times more productive. However, it also created many new problems in terms of public health, pollution, and new kinds of crime.

The second industrial revolution added electric power to the manufacturing, along with a rapidly growing telecommunications network. The third began with the invention of the transistor and information theory and is sometimes thought of as the information or digital revolution. As a result, we now have computers and the Internet.

While some people believe this third revolution defines where we are now, a number of thinkers believe we are already falling into the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Information is now merging more completely into the manufacturing process, creating smarter global factories that can sense demand and provide custom products quickly. Today we are going to discuss the future of manufacturing.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0, Industrie 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution has the potential to be just as transformational as the first. Three trends are often cited as being the hallmarks of this revolution: the industrial internet of things, advance manufacturing, and the emergence of massive interconnectedness, sometimes referred to as the global brain.

The industrial internet of things

The first highlight of industry 4.0 is the industrial internet of things. The internet of things has brought us inexpensive sensing and remote operating devices that can be interconnected via the web. Add this to the emergence of inexpensive massive data processing, and suddenly we have machines that can predict, react, sense themselves, and communicate with us. These machines can tell when they are in need of maintenance or supplies, and they can message each other to better coordinate the process as a whole.

Advanced manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing is a term describing how design, manufacturing, and distribution can be tied together in a unified process. Industry 4.0 is altering the traditional manufacturing methods. Advanced manufacturing integrates the customer into the process, taking in feedback and changing design and demand accordingly. This smart factory doesn't have to sit all in one place, either. It can be distributed globally, yet all of the parts work together seamlessly. One example of advanced manufacturing is 3-D printing, which allows for customization and individualized production.

Emergence of massive interconnectedness

Massive interconnectedness can describe the global collection of talent that can be brought to bear on a problem and this is one of the highlight of Industry 4.0. Within a company or organization this simply means the advanced collaboration tools available. However, the true value is expanding beyond the organization, allowing it to interface with open source groups, crowd sourcing, and using the gig economy to add expertise to specific projects.

One of the leaders of this new movement is Germany, where the term Industry 4.0 was coined. Germany is already a state of the art manufacturing nation, and created the Industry 4.0 platform in 2011 to bring together over 100 organizations to share knowledge and help position itself for this revolution. The European Commission has also entered the field with their own research project, called CREMA (Providing Cloud-based Rapid Elastic Manufacturing based on the XaaS and Cloud model).

On the other hand, countries such as India, which has not been seen as a manufacturing leader, are also investing in Industry 4.0. India has previous invested more heavily in the information industry, both as a software leader and outsourced support and consulting. But because the country does not already have an extensive manufacturing base, it may actually have an advantage in adopting the newest approaches and technology.

Industry 4.0 is going to change the existing supply chain. Life will get better and better, but it will bring along its own set of problems and challenges. For example, the IT security issues. Some of them are predictable, some of them are a complete surprise. However, the manufacturers must have to upgrade the systems and provide corresponding training for the workers in order to adapt the new changes. 

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