Robyn Townsend

What is Industry 4.0?

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The tech industry is full of jargon. It is all too often that I am reading an article or at an event and someone uses a phrase I am unfamiliar with. Then you have to decide if you're going to do a quick google now, or write it down and remember to look it up later. Today I'll give you some background on the popular term Industry 4.0.
For a while, you might have seen people using the term “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” or Industry 4.0. But what does this mean? And how does this affect you?

The History

The term industry 4.0 was first coined in 2015 in this article published in the Journal "Foreign Affairs". This term refers to the advances in industry that are happening today. This is because there have been three industrial revolutions in history and these have laid the path to where we are today.

The First Industrial Revolution

You might remember learning about the industrial revolution in school. This is what we are referring to when we talk about the first industrial revolution. Starting between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s. Manufacturing that was done by hand began using machinery. These machines often used power from steam, coal or water. The key industry involved was textiles that adopted mechanical looms and mass production.

The Second Industrial Revolution

Through the late 1800s to early 1900s saw the invention of the railway and the use of electricity. This replaced steam as the main power source for factories. The modern production line was born!
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The Third Industrial Revolution

In the mid-1900s the digital age began. Computerisation made it possible to automate manufacturing with robotics. Additionally, the use of technologies like CNC meant we could produce with more precision. You could say that we are still in the third industrial revolution. But something bigger is unfolding.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The fourth industrial revolution refers to the ongoing development of technologies and how we can use them together. For example, 3D printing has been around since the 80s.
Combining 3d printing with connected devices and automation, we can create smart factories that can communicate with each other to operate more efficiently.
This phase of development focuses on new and emerging tech and applying these trends as one. There is allot to take in, and new things are coming up all the time. Whether its smart factories, blockchain, IoT, big data or AI it can feel like you are barely scratching the surface of what's possible.
All the same, a few key technologies are at the centre of what's going on. Below is a brief overview of what some of these are:
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3D Printing

3D printing allows us to quickly and efficiently test out new ideas. However, 3D printing is no longer used solely for prototyping. It has the potential to create huge efficiency & cost savings in the supply chain. See my post about 3D Printing and Sustainability for more.

The Internet of Things

The internet of things enables us to use the web to collect and send data without human interaction. This uses things like smart sensors & connected devices. For example, you may have a smart thermostat and speaker such as Alexa at home.

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence allows computers to complete tasks that would need human intellect. Where machine-learning allows computers to teach themselves and improve without being directly programmed.

Augmented & Virtual Reality

AR & VR means more than virtual gaming headsets. Being able to view virtual information in real-world settings gives people unique insights. For example the ability to "touch" and "feel" what they are designing. So the fourth industrial revolution is a move toward being more digitally connected. As well as using data to automate processes without human involvement.
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So how does this affect me?

It might seem like everything I've covered so far relates to manufacturing. But applications of industry 4.0 are already changing the way we live our day to day lives. Whether that's with new ways to automate our homes, connect with our loved ones, or control our data.
Applications of industry 4.0 technologies are being reported all the time. Like an AI that can speed up MRI scans. Or getting notifications of potential Covid-19 exposure from a smartwatch.
Industry 4.0 is still evolving. Whilst we can't say what the long term impact will be. Industry 4.0 has the potential to change everything about the way we live and work.