At the turn of the 20th century, the third industrial revolution was driven by three major tipping points: improvements in agriculture, greater transport possibilities, and an economic boom. Now we’re on the fourth industrial revolution—Industry 4.0. Many businesses are welcoming economic globalization as an opportunity to spread their divisions worldwide and generate a virtual global factory. Among the factors underpinning Industry 4.0's tipping points are the following: connectivity, the smart factory, data, and the customer. They are evolving quickly, thanks to continuous improvements in technological capabilities and the drive of leading professionals to push these improvements beyond what is imagined to be feasible.
Four major tipping points could push Industry 4.0 in the direction of becoming a fully realized concept: connectivity, the smart factory, data, and the customer. (Image source: EU Automation)
Connectivity Keeps Expanding
Economic globalization has also led to the globalization of supply chains, which require effective, accurate tracking methods. The development of RFID tags, which use electromagnetic fields to identify and track products, has been a valuable step toward resolving this.
In addition, improved connectivity allows people to work from home without ceasing communication with colleagues, clients, and customers. This is becoming increasingly popular—partly because it enables workers to reduce childcare and commuting costs. Moreover, a report by ConnectSolutions showed that approximately 30% of those surveyed felt they were more productive when working from home.
The Emergence of the Smart Factory
The term “smart factory” describes the manufacturing sector’s vision for the future. It incorporates exceptional machine intelligence, resulting in the ability to self-optimize and make decisions. Machines will be able to interact and communicate with each other to automate entire manufacturing processes.
In the battle to remain competitive, every manufacturing company is taking steps to bring the smart-factory vision into existence. This is helping to fuel the progress of Industry 4.0.
Data Drives the Advancements
Technology already allows machines to communicate and interact with each other. This enables businesses to run processes more efficiently and frequently. Because of this and other trends, the volume of electronically stored data worldwide is doubling every two years. The majority of this data is being generated by machines rather than people. This has led to the coinage of the term “big data.”
The volume and complexity of this data make it impossible for humans to comprehend it. Therefore, businesses must adopt machines that can collect and analyze data, but also present it in a format that can be understood and used by humans. This interaction is known as interoperability.
Moreover, in the highly competitive environment of the manufacturing sector, businesses must make effective use of this data to further optimize their manufacturing processes. This can be achieved by fitting sensors to machines to continuously monitor their performance. The resultant data can be analyzed to identify times and causes of productivity fluctuations. Practices can be altered accordingly to increase productivity.
Once businesses have mastered the use of big data, they can shift their focus to smart data. This means the data can be analyzed and interpreted so that it gives way to new ideas for products and services.
The End Customer’s Evolving Needs
Customizable products are increasing in popularity. But they are expensive, due to the inability to mass-produce them. 3D printing technology makes mass production possible while offering a feasible way to provide affordable customized products.
Customers are also increasingly turning to online shopping and they expect fast deliveries. A joint study by BigCommerce and Square determined that 51% of Americans prefer to shop online rather than in a physical store, and 86% have made an online purchase.
The use of automated machines and their interaction across the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) means processes can be performed far more quickly and efficiently. This, in turn, helps to meet the growing customer demand. Additionally, improvements in interoperability mean the human workforce can collaborate with the automated equipment to shorten and streamline the product’s journey from manufacturer to customer.
The shift into the fourth industrial revolution is happening as we speak. Before we know it, further socioeconomic and technological changes may tip us toward a fifth industrial revolution. At this rate of technological advancement, however, it seems impossible to imagine what these tipping points might be.
Jonathan Wilkins is the marketing director of industrial automation components supplier, EU Automation. A professional brand advocate and commercial marketing strategist, Jon focuses on delivering growth via a multi-channel approach that has a significant positive impact on business. He has been part of the EU Automation team since its humble beginning seven years ago and has over a decade of experience in marketing.
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