What is Industry 4.0?

Those in the manufacturing industry have seen a rash of new terminology introduced over the last several years. Among those terms: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0.
While these terms may stimulate thoughts of progress and innovation, their true definition remains uncertain as they continue to evolve.

Basics of IIoT were addressed in a previous post.  Here we’ll touch on the revolutionary topic that is referred to as Industry 4.0.

What’s In a Name:

The Industrial Revolution is a reference to the period of 1760 to 1840 – a dynamic era during which industry transitioned from manual production methods to the use of steam-powered, machine-based systems.   Many point to that era as “Industry 1.0”.  It was the launching point for other, subsequent eras that advanced the state-of-the-art.  Consider the introduction of electricity and its contribution to mass production – “Industry 2.0”.  Not only did electricity extend the workday beyond the limits of natural light, it powered smaller, faster machines and made production processes more efficient.  Next was standardization and the application of structured production processes – “Industry 3.0”.  From ISO and Six Sigma to Kaizen and Kanban this era saw dramatic reduction in human error through the widespread adoption of quality control practices.

Now enter “Industry 4.0.”  This is the era of digitization.  Through digitization manufacturers are tapping into the enormous stores of data generated by their means of production.  The data touches on each step of a production process as well as all phases of a supply chain.  Like each of the revolutionary eras preceding it, Industry 4.0 represents a change in the manner by which manufacturers design, produce and deliver products to market.

The Underlying Technology:

To be clear Industry 4.0 is not a single, tangible thing – whether a piece of software or hardware.  Rather, it is the banner under which many new and data-centric technologies are being grouped. Examples include technologies from fields such as autonomous machines, Big Data analytics, and IIoT just to name a few.  Autonomous machines repeat a process in precisely the same way – 24 hours a day and 7 days a week – thereby eliminating human error. Big Data crunches disparate and even unstructured data to uncover unique insights into aspects of production. IIoT is the ongoing transition of data from the plant-floor and its limited use to the cloud for more comprehensive and secure analysis.

The ongoing digitization of manufacturing and ability to link different data sources together characterizes this fourth and latest era of the Industrial Revolution.  The underlying goal is to make our factories “smart”.

What Does It All Mean:

If you’re associated with the manufacturing sector, then you have probably been monitoring the evolution of Industry 4.0.  Given its push toward increased automation many worry about the impact on jobs – a valid concern. While some will certainly be displaced by increased automation, that is nothing new.  That’s what has happened throughout each era of this ongoing revolution.

Industry 4.0 is here to stay.  Indeed, manufacturers are projected to spend an estimated $907 billion per year until 2020 just to bring their plants to up to speed. Analysts project that this investment will lead to better data for those at all levels of the plant, optimization of the entire project lifespan, and it will help to lower costs, reduce time to market, and lead to greater flexibility.  Like every revolution before it, Industry 4.0 is seen to dramatically change the industry and bring about greater optimization and efficiency. Again, Industry 4.0 is here to stay…of course until Industry 5.0 arrives!

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