It’s a surprising statistic. According to the World Economic Forum, ‘65% of the children entering primary school today will grow up working in positions that don’t even exist at this moment’. And the credit for these non-existent jobs? Laid at the feet of Industry 4.0.  

It’s a theme that has occurred time and time again – a specific technology has been invented that has changed society fundamentally. Each industrial revolution, from the steam engine to mass production to the boom in electronics, has always spiralled out to create societal change. This digital revolution stands to be no different.

Take the personal computer for example, it revolutionised business and how the individual spent their free time. It was part and parcel of the third industrial revolution, which witnessed the rise of electronics. Did IBM’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ ever foresee that their invention would hit 2 billion purchases and counting? Nope, yet it’s now unthinkable to go without a laptop or at the very least, a phone. These revolutions have a lasting impact on daily lives, for better or worse.   

 

But what exactly does Industry 4.0 mean? 

Industry 4.0 is the point at which digital innovations unite with manufacturing processes, a union often called a cyber-physical system. In layman’s terms, it is the use of automation and data exchange in manufacturing. 

 McKinsey states that this digital revolution is driven by the following disruptions:

  • rising data-volumes
  • increasing computational power and connectivity (especially in LPWANS)
  • the emergence of analytics and business-intelligence capabilities
  • new forms of human-machine interaction such as touch interfaces 
  • augmented-reality systems
  • improvements in transferring digital instructions into the physical world (think 3D printing). 

So essentially, Industry 4.0 is the collision between the digital world, such as data collection and networks, and the physical world. 

Gartner goes further, stating that,”CIOs must assess digital maturity and data governance to develop sustainable digital transformation priorities.”

 

What is the effect of Industry 4.0? 

One of the main effects of Industry 4.0 is that is gives manufacturers the ability to rapidly design, modify, customise and produce at a generally lower cost. Twinned with the rollout of 5G, it means that manufacturers will no longer need to rely on fixed and mobile networks when communicating. This is because 5G is positioned to offer everything that fiber offers at the moment, as well as the mobility necessary for flexible manufacturing.  According to Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Industry 4.0 is ‘blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres’. The result? Everything that goes into that manufacturer’s supply chain – data collection, process and network – can react faster to changing consumer habits due to these lines blurring and connecting.

Industry 4.0 is also able to address standard manufacturing problems such as the Bullwhip Effect (which centres around forecasting accuracy or inaccuracy) or tracing problems within the supply chain, as processes are able to be monitored better and predicted more accurately when data is collected and analysed successfully. 

 

Why is everyone jumping on the bandwagon? 

Well, Industry 4.0 looks to have great potential across multiple aspects of business. It could help identify opportunities, increase productivity, optimise logistics and supply chains, improve business continuity and working conditions. So, that’s a lot of green lights for industrial bodies. 

A case-study of an African gold mine utilised the data collected by sensors to identify a problem with oxygen levels during leaching. Once they had identified the problem, they were able to fix it and increase their yield by 3.7% –  a small percentage that represented a saving of $20 million annually.  Not bad, Industry 4.0, not bad at all.

 

What are the problems? 

The primary problem comes in the form of the vast amounts of data collected that then require sifting through. The challenge lies in finding meaning in vast swathes of data – just how do you search through and draw conclusions from such huge amounts of information? An existential crisis, or very robust algorithm, is required.  

There is another concern – the workforce. People are the value-drivers that unite all companies and they need to be trained to cope and succeed within this new revolution. With no clear vision for the workforce, no training and poor technical infrastructure, it will be all too easy to derail.  

Returning to the WEF’s belief in the future of jobs, we are entering into a new industrial revolution. Like all revolutions, there will be a moment of huge upheaval and great uncertainty.  It will also be a moment that creates a huge number of opportunities. For those that will grow with it, they will be well placed to enter into a much-changed job market. For the current workforce, adaption is key. Innovation and evolution are the buzzwords for the next phase in industrial working.  

 

What does it take to be part of the club – is there an Industry 4.0 manual somewhere?

No, there’s no manual. Wikipedia, written by people in the know, describes the principles of Industry 4.0 as a set of design principles grouped in 4 categories:

  • Interconnection: The ability of machines, devices, sensors, and people to connect and communicate with each other via the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Internet of People
  • Information transparency: The transparency afforded by Industry 4.0 technology provides operators with vast amounts of useful information needed to make appropriate decisions. Inter-connectivity allows operators to collect immense amounts of data and information from all points in the manufacturing process, thus aiding functionality and identifying key areas that can benefit from innovation and improvement.
  • Technical assistance: assistance systems to support humans by aggregating and visualizing information
  • Decentralized decisions: cyber physical systems to make decisions on their own and to perform their tasks as autonomously.

Plus, Industry 4.0 should see us achieve environmentally sustainable manufacturing with green manufacturing processes, supply chain management, and products.

But on the the flip side…

Well, Elon Musk got a bit overexcited and found that it was automation holding Tesla back, not people. He quite plainly stated, ‘Humans are underrated.’

So, what’s your take?

Elon Musk or subscriber to the hype?