Are we in Industry 4.0?

There have been considerable shifts in industry throughout history as new technology has been invented and implemented. When new technology is applied on a large it can cause a dramatic change in how all industry works – this creates a new ‘version’ of industry.

What is Industry 1.0?

1760-1840 – The Industrial Revolution. The most famous of them all! Main industry moved from agriculture and handmade items to an economy driven by machine-powered manufacturing. Gigantic steam and water powered machine such as looms, could rapidly produce fabrics by running day and night. Steam and waterpower drove huge, mass-producing machines leading the way in the new industrial era.

What is Industry 2.0?

1870-1914 – The Technological Revolution. The invention and wide spread installation of electricity paved the way for the next industrial era. Assembly line, mass production forged a new way of manufacturing high volumes. The famous Model T Ford was produced from 1908 to 1927 manufacturing over 15 million cars. 

What is Industry 3.0?

1969-2000 – The Digital Revolution. Electronics and computers started to enter the mainstream world – rapidly evolving automation over the following years. The floppy disk was created in 1971, in 1973 Xerox developed Ethernet for connecting multiple computers together. Apple I launches in 1976 and the Apple II in 1977. The first IBM PC was introduced in 1981 using the MS-DOS operating system. In 1986 my favourite computer, the BBC Master 128 by Acorn was released (and I still have it!). Year on year bought more interconnectivity and more processing power. 

What is Industry 4.0?

The Automation Revolution. Some believe we are already in Industry 4.0 and some believe it is just another ‘buzz word’ to promote or describe automation technology in industry. Other terms for Industry 4.0 are: Smart Manufacturing, Smart Factory, Manufacturing 4.0 or the general term of ‘Internet–of-things’ (IoT). 

The concept of Industry 4.0 is focused on increased automation through machine-to-machine (M2M) networking, Internet-of-things (IoT), the use of Artificial intelligence (AI) and/or Machine Learning (ML). Different systems would interface with each other to self-manage and self-diagnose problems with minimal human interaction. Very much the concept of a 6PL, AI controlled supply chain. 

Indeed, some companies do already operate robot controlled manufacturing processes. These can be left to run overnight with no direct human supervisor – commonly referred to as ‘lights out operations’. A full lights out operation can run near continuously with minimal human interaction but these processes follow a CNC or preprogramed instruction, not an AI computer. 

Other companies are choosing the use of Cobots, or collaborative robots, instead of full automation, to enhance the existing human workforce. Cobots are designed to assist and work with, not replace, the human workforce. This, although highly technological, does not match the brief of Industry 4.0 either.

So are we in industry 4.0 at the moment? Only history will say for sure – in my opinion, the technology is certainly available if not yet perfected or widely implemented. No doubt the term ‘Industry 4.0’ will continue to be used for manufacturing processes which are mostly automated requiring minimal human interaction. Who knows? Maybe the next stage in advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning is already being developed ready to propel the world fully into a fully automated Industry 4.0 environment – it is indeed a fascinating concept.

Published by A Kennedy

An award winning, UK based, International Logistics Manager for a multinational tool company. Over 25 years experience in international logistics and supply chain management. Elected ‘Chartered Status’ by the CILT and ‘Expert Status’ by the IoSCM.

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