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Is the 4th Industrial Revolution Underway?

In 1965, the American engineer Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors per silicon chip would double every year. This observation, called Moore’s law, underpinned long-term planning strategies and shaped our ideas of future for several decades. Since 2012 the pace of advancement was declining steadily, and in 2017 Intel stated the era of Moore’s law is over and it is hyperscaling that would be able to continue the trend and offset the increased cadence by aggressively scaling beyond the typical doubling of transistors.

Apart from the evident slowing-down of the rate of change, we see new technologies and innovation bubble — just think of the infamous Theranos project. We see that the revered self-driving cars, virtual reality and even AI itself are still in their infantry and will remain there for years. At still we hear a lot about the 4th Industrial Revolution. So is the world changing or is it just a fantasy?

But first of all…

…What is the 4th Industrial Revolution?

It is usually referred to as an environment in which disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing our lives and business. The author The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Professor Klaus Schwab claims that the new age stands out by the speed of technological breakthroughs, the pervasiveness of scope and the tremendous impact of new systems.

With the abundance of digital devices, many manufacturers believe they are leading their markets towards Industry 4.0 technologies. Worldwide, businesses are piloting different Industry 4.0 solutions, mainly across connectivity, intelligence and flexible automation. However, in most cases, they are merely exploring digital manufacturing strategies — applying automation, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things — rather than implementing them successfully. The evidence is that over 70% of businesses investing in big data analytics, artificial intelligence or 3D printing would not take the projects beyond the pilot phase.

To aid the process of learning and adoption of technologies by other companies, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has selected nine so-called lighthouses, the world’s smartest factories when it comes to adopting industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies. These companies have created factories that have 20–50% higher performance and create a competitive edge. They have certain common things: agile teams with domain, analytics, IoT and software development expertise; a common data/IoT platform; and up to 15 use cases already in action.

All nine lighthouses — five in Europe, three in China and one in the USA — have agreed to share their knowledge with other manufacturing businesses in the effort to build a network of similar pioneering manufacturers to address problems connected with investing in advanced technologies.

Nine Lighthouses of IIoT

If we compare their approaches, we can figure out the main trends that we will see in the near future as a result of the Industry 4.0 advancement:

As a part of factory automation, robotics and robots are entering new environments and creating new value for manufacturers. Similar to tectonic shifts in the labor market induced by previous industrial revolutions, Industry 4.0 demands new skills to maximize the potential of the digital economy. A recent WEF Future of Jobs Report 2018 shows that AI and related technologies will bring about a net gain in employment. In this process, jobs will be both lost and created, and more people will get training in STEM, engineering and data sciences, as well as up-skilling of their existing expertise.

Top technologies that are predicted to shape the industry in 2019 will be the core of future transition to Industry 4.0. Such technologies as 5G & Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) will provide workers on the factory floor with the access to data analytics and vital alerts from multiple data points. Equipped with automated and intelligent applications via phones and tablets, factory workers will be able to improve their efficiency, collaboration, and decision-making to become more informed and mobile workforce.

Digital twins, on the other hand, will assist businesses in modelling their production lines, processes, and networks in a virtual environment. With the help of digital twins, businesses will predict problems to boost productivity and efficiency. By combining this with sensors that monitor temperature, pressure, RPM, and other critical factors, factory workers will be able to prevent problems more effectively and react faster.

The heart of the new industrial revolution, the Internet of Things, is supposed to help companies avoid overstocking, downtime, and unnecessary fuel usage. It can optimize maintenance schedules and output, monitor critical processes, increase opportunities for automation, and better understand customers.

The central place in the IoT-driven smart factory belongs to Artificial Intelligence that helps manufacturers predict demand patterns and allocate resources accurately. Coupled with Big Data analytics, AI allows manufacturers to answer questions based on cold, hard data rather than human guesswork.

The 4th Industrial Revolution goes far beyond a technological shift. It is a vast social phenomenon, intertwined with the globalization processes and the modern idea of “global village” built on digital foundations.

Globalization and technology are intimately interconnected: on the one hand, movement of people, goods and ideas is accelerated and broadened by new forms of transportation and communication. In this process, technology plays a defining role in creating new opportunities and risks. Besides, being a product of human thought, technological development is enhanced by the diversity of ideas and the increased scale that come globally.

Image Credit: pixabay.com

All recent developments prove that the 4th Industrial Revolution is real. We already live in the world of the Internet of Things. Even in our daily lives, we navigate through an invisible IoT network, relying on device-to-device communications as different devices and objects send commands and exchange our data with one another. We live in the era of smart devices when workers and management equally get augmented with technology.

Industry 4.0 will deliver productivity gains and transform the future of manufacturing, but we are still at the beginning of the journey. The confluence of technologies will shift manufacturing away from its quest for the lowest labor cost towards more personalized, automated, and localized value chains, based on customer needs. And this, in turn, will pave the way for smart homes where everything is controlled with a button, for connected cars, and for the long-expected marvel of robotics.

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