Ferry Vermeulen is the director at INSTRKTIV GmbH. Read his full blog post about Industry 4.0 here.
When mobile phones became the norm in the mid-1990s, this enraged employees who worked away from their bases because their employers demanded instant communication like never before. Once this all settled down, most people found they benefited in some way or another from this amazing device, from telling their family they would be late home, to ordering their lunch on a mobile device to save time. This was part of the third industrial revolution, which was already about to give way to the fourth.
The fourth industrial revolution became a reality with many of the same ideals as the first and second - that is, to mechanise the production of goods. The basis of the first industrial revolution was the use of water and steam; the second used electricity to initiate mass production, while the third heralded the use of information technology and electronics to further automate production. So, each industrial revolution has increasingly eliminated the need to use human labour as a means of production. Now we are into the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. It's called this because it is where research has developed new devices to bring even more technology on stream for industries to use. It is not so much a continuation of the third industrial revolution because of its explosive nature creating technology never heard of before.
Industry 4.0 pursues digital transformation, which is a step further towards relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) to perform processes without the need for the human hand. IoT is made up of billions of physical devices throughout the world that collect and share data through being connected to the Internet. Much of its successful implementation has been, in part, due to cheap, available processors and wireless networks. Virtually anything these days can incorporate IoT. Industry 4.0 uses IoT at various stages of the production process right through to supplying the product to the market. So far, from recent results, it is shown to perform best with certain applications in the industrial sector. These include:
- augmented and virtual reality
- specific kinds of goods
- remote-controlled and even autonomous vehicles.
Industry 4.0 also performs better with larger business concerns, with some amazing results. It will only suit those companies which have created the right strategy for its use and have conducted a risk assessment first. Employees need to be informed of how they should adapt as well. It is advanced technology that improves what businesses usually aim for, such as lowering costs and improving productivity while implementing more automation.
There are few true monopolies, and companies are continually looking over their shoulders to detect any competitors entering their market. This is where Industry 4.0 uses big data and analytics to help companies develop strategies to run their operations on a daily basis. Some companies have become so digitalised that each machine in the production facility is monitored individually through IoT connections. This quickly determines if the most is being extracted from the machine and how it is possible to make improvements. This helps to produce a product at a more competitive price, therefore putting pressure on competitors.
Robots have now become so sophisticated that they can make decisions without continuous input from a human. Augmented reality, as a relatively new concept, has now filled a missing link, as it creates a connection between machine and man. It permits a designer to get a thorough feel for the product before it is finally released. Its target is to minimise mistakes and reduce costs, while at the same time improve the quality of a product.
The Internet provides the hub for numerous features of business. Wages are paid; products are sold, purchased and paid for; services are rendered; and important data is stored. The Internet benefits both companies and their customers. This is also the time when cybersecurity has become an issue. Industry 4.0 takes cybersecurity seriously. It helps to ensure that everything is safely placed where it is supposed to be. There is nothing worse for a company than shareholders discovering that a security breach of data has taken place.
Will there be a fifth industrial revolution?
The Cloud, wearables, IoT, robotics - can we progress much more? The answer from the experts is that the fifth industrial revolution is on its way. It will be based more on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics than at any other time in human existence. Machines will do more and more and will make decisions without human intervention. At the moment, anyone can go online to seek an answer to a question. This is called a chatbot. In a verbal response, you can't differentiate the response from that of a real human being until they start to get confused and a real human has to come online to sort out the mess. This allegedly won't happen in the future as AI will know it all.