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What exactly is Industry 4.0?

When you think of the first industrial revolution, steam trains, dark factories, and Isambard Brunel in his tall hat all spring to mind. Skip forward to the early 20th Century, and the surge of mass consumption with the trusty assembly line, symbolises the second industry revolution. Fast forward again to the late 1940s and we find ourselves in the ‘Digital Revolution’ or third revolution. Led by revolutionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and companies such as IBM, this period of history has seen more technological advancement than the previous two revolutions put together.

They say the best things come in threes, but I beg to differ – think The Beatles, ABBA, Queen and of course four leaf clovers. And now the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, has joined this elite club.

The first and second revolution were a reaction to a sudden demand for industries which required a huge surge in productivity and innovation. To grow in these times, you needed to be producing more and putting more back into the economy – but this is where economies today have become stagnant. Industry 4.0 is the answer to how companies are overcoming this problem.

Industry 4.0 isn’t digitalisation of the mechanic industry, this has already been happening for nearly 50 years, rather it encompasses how we have begun to harness data in real time and use this information to structure the existing manufacturing chain. Ultimately creating a more efficient global ecosystem. But how is Industry 4.0 making an impact on our lives right now?

In 1909, Henry Ford famously said, ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.’ Mass production used to be king, but there’s a new guy in town now – personalisation.

With the dawn of Industry 4.0, mass production is being replaced by scale customisation, meaning all customers can buy the product they want, with the design they want, for no extra cost at all. Companies, and so their machines, now revolve around the individual customer, rather than the other way around.

The technology leading the way this personalisation trend is additive manufacturing more commonly known as 3D Printing. Factories using 3D printing can design prototypes and test new parts in hours rather than weeks – significantly reducing the amount of time and money it takes to create custom products for customers.

Honeywell Aerospace are pioneering the use of 3D printing and Airbus unveiled the first aircraft to be entirely made by additive manufacturing. Engineers can keep adding, checking, and changing their products, with no time lost. This is a huge benefit to not only the customer but the company itself as it reduces costs while maintaining quality and keeping customers happy.

 Another way Industry 4.0 is changing our everyday lives without us knowing is through creating smart factories. A ‘smart factory’ is a networked factory harnessing data from design teams, supply chains, production lines and quality control are linked to form an intelligent machine. According to McKinsey, the economic impact of smart factories could reach up to $2.3trillion by 2025.

Companies like Amazon have embraced robots scuttling around their warehouses for years, with over 30,000 Kiva robots darting around its warehouses across the globe reducing the operating expenses by about 20%.

As well as having robots running factories, everything on factory plants is now connected. Industry Internet of Things (IIToT) enables companies with huge factories to gain a comprehensive understanding of all current operations which means they can understand and monitor their products in real time. This benefits the customer too, as they also can find out exactly where their product is from ordering it online to receiving it in the post. Industry 4.0 is creating a more transparent business model for all involved.

Industry 4.0 is putting customers at the centre of production. Increasingly, they will be able to personalise their purchases when and where they want to. According to a PWC report, manufacturers expect to reduce operational costs by 3.6% while increasing efficiency by 4.1% annually through 2020 thanks to Industry 4.0. Ultimately, it looks like industry 4.0 is going to revolutionise manufacturing and the future is looking very bright.

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