The first industrial revolution (IR) happened when we moved from farms to factories in the mid 18th century to early 19th century. The second IR took place when we started using steel and produced goods en masse from the 1850s to World War 1. The third such revolution was ushered in when we moved from analogue, mechanical and electronic technology to digital.
The fourth IR is the move towards digitisation; it is also referred to as Industry 4.0, a term that refers to a collection of concepts like Internet of Things, Internet of Services and cyber physical systems where sensors have the capability to collect data that can be later used by manufacturers and producers and big data analytics.
Industry 4.0 means simple machines using self-configuration, self-optimisation and even artificial intelligence to perform complex tasks to create cost effective products and services. The first usage of the term Industry 4.0 was by the German government, which mentioned a high-tech strategy document that speaks about computerising the manufacturing industry with nary a need for human presence. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, spoke about Industry 4.0 as the “coming together of the online world and the world of industrial production” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
A non-profit organisation called Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), which is a consortium of manufacturers, suppliers, government agencies and technology companies, based in the US, has a common goal of constructing a unified platform of industrial-networked information applications. It is expected that the penetration of Industry 4.0 concepts will give manufacturing companies easy access to modelling and analytical technologies.
General Electric has been working on an initiative called “The Industrial Internet”. It aims to bring together the advances of the IR and the more recent internet revolution. GE says it involves three aspects: intelligent machines, advanced analytics and people at work.
There are six principles that help in identifying and implementing Industry 4.0 scenarios. Interoperability: It is the ability of cyber physical systems and humans to connect and communicate via IoS (Internet of Services defined as the next generation of services provided over the internet) and IoT (Internet of Things allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure. It creates opportunities for integration between physical world and computer-based systems); Virtualisation (a virtual copy of the smart factory created by linking sensor data with virtual plant models and simulation models ); Decentralisation (ability of cyber physical systems to take independent decisions); Real-time capability (capability to collect, analyse and provide insights) ;Service Orientation (Offering services via IoS); and Modularity (flexible adaptation of smart factories to suit changing requirements).
The required automation that is introduced in Industry4.0 technology is brought about by the concepts of self-optimisation, self-configuration, self-diagnosis, cognition and intelligent support of workers in a complex work. A few examples of Industry 4.0 would be machines that predict failures and has the intelligence to trigger maintenance processes independently, apart from organising logistics based on unexpected changes in the production.
Adequate skill set, redundancy of the IT dept and hesitancy to accept new things can be considered as challenges facing Industry 4.0. But communication technologies like big data, cloud computing, etc, will predict the possibility of increasing productivity, quality and performance within the manufacturing industry.
Industry 4.0 can have a great impact on workers, socio-economic factors, machine safety, industry value chain, etc. Industry 4.0 is basically a confluence of the digital and the physical world giving rise to a new future.