Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing.
Cyber physical system (CPS) – most common example would be self-drive cars (Google and Tesla). It is a combination of physical and computational elements; bringing the virtual and physical worlds together in a network of connected information and actionable feedback.
IoT (Internet of things) is a subset in a way of a CPS. IoT is in essence the technology that allows inanimate objects to become “smart” and provide data about said physical object back to the network. A CPS analyses the incoming data and processes it into information that it feeds back to the physical object in order to alter or improve its state in context of all the other connected objects within the realm of the specific CPS solution. The complexity of the CPS increases with each interrelated physical IoT object added to its network and the overall power and functionality of the system will be reliant on the algorithms to compute the necessary incoming relational information. This is where the cloud computing, Big Data and analytics come in. But more about each of these components in future posts…
The discussion around Industry 4.0 is heavily focused on manufacturing technology and on the premise that it will serve the same “Industry” as before. Industry 4.0, serving mass production sectors like automobile manufacture and assembly, is really just an improvement in efficiency. It talks to employing newer technology to increase the production and reduce the waste – this is a natural part of ongoing and cyclical quality improvement. In my mind then I have to ask if this is really a “revolution”. My feelings are that there is a revolution underway but the fundamental questions about this revolution and the way that IoT, Big Data, Cloud resources and Business Intelligence will have an impact on the future picture, are not being asked. The revolution cart is being put ahead of the Industrial horse. I think we need to define more fundamentally what “Industry” will look like and what higher level trends will drive it’s direction.
There is an undeniable movement towards craft, artisanal and unique products and services. There is an intrinsic and core human need, subdued over the recent past by the allure of convenience created by mass production, which is fighting its way back to the human surface. People want real, tangible and human experiences back. Every generation after the Baby Boomers, has had the privileged opportunity to question purpose and reason at a higher level. They have been afforded the space to explore and debate with a clear result arising – that being the need for authenticity. There are trends in the marketing space towards authentic storytelling, in the product space towards craft, and in the service space towards honesty (just doing what you say you are going to do) – basic human requirements. Mass production speaks to a loss of humanness, materialised most notably in the destruction of our own habitat. Environmental concerns and drivers are no longer limited to tree hugging and bunny squeezing. They are real passion points supported by growing industries that are using the trees and bunnies in sustainable and ethical ways. The crazy thing is that we are moving back towards age old, tried and tested industries. Suddenly a career as a Blacksmith has become more attractive to many than becoming a Chartered Accountant; it is tangible and results in real world outputs that can be enjoyed with all 5 human senses. Production of unique one-of-a-kind outputs, are becoming more attractive and valuable to consumers. Surely it will be the consumer who will give the greatest indication of the direction in which we will head. My feelings are that Industry 4.0 is being conceived and developed with production in mind and not what the consumer is asking for.
You only have to look at the Sharing Economy that has affected massive change in transport (Uber) and accommodation (AirBnB) to see that people inherently understand that the concept of ownership is flawed. Mass production and its aligned marketing tried to convince us that we needed to own everything – this was a charade created to sell more cars and houses. People will buy less of these things going forward as they are enlightened through the use of more and more “disruptive” technologies. It is surely then ill-conceived to develop Industry 4.0 in line with a diminishing mass production. Connecting the physical world to the virtual one and using technology to better understand and then improve processes, will undoubtedly be part of our world going forward but I believe that they will be employed to enable the rise of decentralised, local and specialist industries.