Industry 4.0: The Ways in Which Technology is Transforming Industry

Innovations in the applications of cutting-edge tech are revolutionizing manufacturing to the extent that it is now known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Ariella  Brown
Robots working in plant ipopba/iStock 

While consumers are aware of how technology is delivering the world to their fingertips in a very literal way by bringing news, communication, and shopping options directly to their phones, they aren’t always aware of the ways in which technology is changing the way the products they use are made.

The possibilities inherent in linking the capabilities of digitalization to the physical aspects of industry by capitalizing on the growing abilities of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies has earned a name of its own, Industry 4.0. The name comes from the fact that there were three other industrial revolutions identified in history.


 From Steam Power to Integrated Data Power 

The First Industrial Revolution dates to the end of the eighteenth century when people transitioned from simple tools that were powered solely by human or animal labor to more advanced machines that could be powered through other means. This was the dawn of mechanization and the beginnings of leveraging fuel like coal for production. 

The steam engine was a major turning point in technological capability that paved the way for many innovations in manufacturing that boosted the production of textiles, coal, and iron. The last two were essential for the development of transportation and connection over distance, as they formed the building blocks of the railroad system.

The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between the year 1870 and 1914, according to historians. That’s when factories shifted from steam power to electric power and introduced efficiency into production with assembly lines, something that Henry Ford capitalized on in mass-producing his cars to make them more affordable for consumers.

But cars were not the only form of transportation that benefited from the new technologies. As steel came to replace iron, it was utilized in ships and railroads, improving the shipping industry. 

Steel was used for industrial machines and construction projects. That was what enabled architects to design new kinds of buildings that we're able to achieve heights never before attainable.  

The Third Industrial Revolution dates to the middle of the last century when as manufacturers started to incorporate electronic components into their processes. They then progressed to using computers, and digital technology began to supplant analog and mechanical technology for more precise control and better automation.

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, as it is known, is identified as our current paradigm shift. Industry 4.0 is that the digital become much more integrated into the physical end of manufacturing, which enables smoother connections between departments, products, and people. 

 Humans and Machines are Better Together 

At the heart of this latest industrial revolution is what GlobalData describes as “enhanced human-machine interaction to drive interconnectivity, information transparency and autonomous decision making.”

GlobalData’s Disruptor Tech Database identifies five key technologies that define the paradigm shift in Industry 4.0. They are:

  1.  big data and analytics (BDA),
  2.  industrial internet of things (IIoT),
  3.  cloud computing, 
  4. additive manufacturing (3D printing) 
  5. augmented reality (AR)

Additional technological innovations that are contributing to the new data-driven, agile, and automated environment for manufacturing includes advanced robotics, digital twinning, simulation, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. All of these have been applied to improving results, including, predictive maintenance, inventory planning, greater logistical efficiency, more on target estimated times of delivery, and better safety. 

New Terms for New Tech

Industry 4.0 creates new opportunities and new environments to promote greater efficiency. It also brings with it new terms to refer to the technology involved beyond the general ones like AI.

They include the following: 

  • CPS stands for Cyber-physical systems, also sometimes known as cyber manufacturing. It represents an Industry 4.0-enabled manufacturing environment in which there is real-time data collection, analysis, and transparency on every aspect of manufacturing. That allows unprecedented insight into processes. 
  • Ecosystem refers to the potential connectedness of every aspect of the industrial operation, which includes physical inventory, manufacturing execution, supply chain management, logistics, customer relationships, revenue, budgets, and planning. 
  • IIoT stands for the Industrial Internet of Things. It’s basically IOT within the industrial framework. 
  • M2M stands for machine-to-machine, which refers to the communication between two separate machines that takes place through wireless or wired networks.
  • Smart factory: unlike a traditional factory that is just about manufacturing, a smart one is equipped with and designed to capitalize on Industry 4.0 technology for processes that are informed by and contribute to the flow of data used to make business decisions in real-time.

 Getting the Factory to be Smart

"Ideally, a smart factory is flexibly automated and self-monitoring where machines, materials, and humans communicate with each other, sparing workers for other productive tasks and ultimately optimizing the design and production processes for elevated operational efficiency," according to GlobalData.

It also quotes Kiran Raj, Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData , who observed,  “Industry 4.0 can empower building what many refer to as ‘smart factory’ for a truly productive environment with benefits to manufacturers as well as consumers such as enhanced communication, real-time monitoring, advanced data analysis, and self-diagnosis.”

Below is a video of a smart factory in action. As Audi says, "this factory of the future, big data – the creation and intelligent connection of large volumes of data – will facilitate data‑driven and thus highly flexible and highly efficient manufacturing. "

Unlike the approach of the Second Industrial Revolution in which cars were built in an assembly line for the sake of efficiency, Audi has found a better way, "a radically new, disruptive concept is modular assembly." 

 Insight on Integration for IIoT

In an email exchange, Uzi Scheffer, CEO of  SOSA offered some further insight on how IIoT is currently being applied. His response appears below:

Integrations of Industrial-Internet-of-Things (IIoT) in traditional industry facilities is all about bringing together companies of completely different sizes, backgrounds, and activities to engage in joint innovation towards a common goal. Examples of open innovation can be hard to come by, however, at SOSA a number of recent success stories come to mind.

We work with the Jerusalem-based company Correlor Data Science Intelligence, which specializes in predictive analytics for industrial companies using Machine Learning. After receiving a grant from the Bird Foundation, an organization promoting collaboration between U.S. and Israeli companies, we introduced Correlor to the Colorado-based power and control technologies developer Advanced Energy.

Advanced Energy was looking for this exact solution to support their operational excellence. Their collaboration led to the successful joint development of a Connected Power (IIoT) Data System with analytic and Machine Learning applications, specialized for the semiconductor and thin-film manufacturer markets.

This mutually beneficial partnership between specialized tech startups and larger industry leaders is an example we believe should be as common and boundless as it can be. Our mission is to empower organizations to come to this realization and support them in reaching the right technology, in the most efficient way we can.

He ended with this optimistic outlook: "Established corporations are now seeing more and more that change is more of an opportunity, and less of a threat."