Industry 4.0

Following on from Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to CBI Annual Conference 2016, Naked Element explains that Industry 4.0 is a revolution individuals and organisations must be aware of in order to prepare themselves for the big changes that lie ahead.

When people hear the words ‘Industrial Revolution’ images of brick built factories come to mind, plumes of black smoke billowing from their chimney stacks, the working men with their faces stained with grease and grime. An image of a bygone age, where the combustion engine and manual labour transformed our world.

Compared to this smog-filled revolution that most ordinary people will be familiar with, the fourth industrial revolution will seem like a work of futuristic science fiction, conjuring up images of Skynet and robots that can think for themselves. Aptly named ‘Industry 4.0’ this forthcoming revolution, like the ones before it, promises to dramatically change how industry works. There is some debate about what the previous three revolutions where, with some focussing on IT related changes only from the 1970s onwards, but most include all major upheavals to manufacturing processes from the end of the 18th century.

The rise of two things in particular can be attributed to powering the tech revolution – cloud computing and the Internet of Things. In simple terms cloud computing enables individuals or companies to work anywhere there is connectivity, to access and share their data by accessing ‘the cloud’ of information, rather than relying on files stored on a work server only. The Internet of Things is exactly what it sounds like. ‘Things’ (your car, your fridge, your central heating system) are connected to the internet and can be controlled remotely through that connection. The combination of these two could mean great things for manufacturers. In fact companies in Germany are already leading the way.

Production machines that can connect to the internet can be monitored remotely. They can also connect to the other machines on the production line. Give that machine access to the cloud and it can access data gathered from the rest of the factory. A connected ‘workforce’ that has real-time production data available to it can monitor itself, has the potential to self-diagnose and adjust its actions accordingly. This may all sound a little far-fetched but it’s more of a reality than one might think.

There are companies already taking advantage of the advance in data collection brought about by the Internet of Things. Identifying where improvements can be made to processes to increase yield, or using 3D printing to reduce production time and increase profit margins, or simply analysing data to pinpoint exactly what customers desires are, and how much they’re willing to pay to have them met, to increase turnover. These are all real world examples of how Industry 4.0 is already changing how industry works.

How should businesses prepare for these big changes though? For many the biggest obstacle is cost. Updating technology, replacing machines and employing developers is expensive and the investment may just be too much for some. For those that can afford to make changes, it is essential that there is a strategy in place. It’s all well and good collecting lots of data, but how is it to be used? What advantages can it give and how are changes to be implemented once improvements have been identified? The way companies do business is also something to be considered, as the manufacturing process is changing so does the market place and business must be prepared for competitors to emerge. The other point to take into consideration is once data has been collected, and used to its potential, how will that data be managed? Is the cybersecurity up to scratch? And, just as importantly, is the tech and development team? One thing that is agreed upon is that there is no stopping Industry 4.0. It will have a revolutionary impact on the way we manufacture and business needs to be prepared. Let’s just hope we don’t need John Connor’s help in our futuristic landscape.

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