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What Does the Term ‘Industry 4.0’ Mean?

Posted on 05 Mar 2018

Dave Oakes, Powelectrics MD, attended Factories of the Future/Industry 4.0 Summit in Manchester last week. In talking to contacts and customers, it has become clear that the term is not known and understood by everyone, so here is the briefest of explanations.

Industry 4.0 is a shorthand term for ‘the fourth industrial revolution’. Most of us are familiar with the first industrial revolution, that took place in the 1700s and 1800s, where manufacturing of common products such as textiles moved from being predominantly cottage industries to mechanised processes involving water and steam power and efficiencies were gained through mechanisation and the grouping of people and processes together in factories and mills.

The second industrial revolution has been described as mass production, the introduction of electricity to processes and assembly lines.
The third industrial revolution involved the adoption of computers and automation.

Now we have the fourth industrial revolution. We hear terms like M2M ‘Machine to Machine’ the IIoT ‘Industrial Internet of Things’, cloud computing, machine learning, AI ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and cyber-physical systems.

At its simplest, Industry 4.0 is about connecting machines, devices, sensors and people so that meaningful data is available to the right parties, at the right time and in the right place to improve business processes. That may be to predict failures and trigger maintenance processes, to improve efficiencies in production processes, to organise deliveries more logically or to improve safety.

Whilst the term is increasingly common, some people have commented that technological innovation is continuous, so the irreversible trend towards ever greater connectivity is more of an ‘evolution’ that a ‘revolution’. Either way, industry authorities agree that understanding and embracing these amazing technologies will be increasingly essential to business survival.