FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Industry 4.0: which technologies will mark the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

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Industry 4.0 is the origin of a new revolution — the much-hailed Fourth Industrial Revolution — a fusion of leading-edge production techniques and smart systems that integrate with organisations and people. Come with us on a journey through the technologies driving this process and its accelerating advance.

We all studied the First Industrial Revolution at school. In which the steam engine patented by James Watt in 1769 played an important role. The one that meant the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. The First Industrial Revolution, in short, was the most revolutionary economic, technological and social transformation the world had ever seen. More than two centuries later, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is causing an even bigger stir.

WHAT IS THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?

The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution was coined in 2016 by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, in a book of the same name. So where better to find a good definition than within its pages? "The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing cooperate with each other in a flexible way at the global level". The Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, is not only about smart and connected machines and systems. Its scope is much wider. Occurring simultaneously are waves of further breakthroughs in areas ranging from gene sequencing to nanotechnology, from renewable energies to quantum computing. It is the fusion of these technologies and their interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the Fourth Industrial Revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions.

HOW DID THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ARISE?

To analyse how we have reached the Fourth Industrial Revolution it is a good idea to look back at the previous three industrial revolutions, how they changed our lives and the world when they occurred. Let's take a quick look at:

  • First Industrial Revolution. It occurred at the end of the 18th century, in 1784, when steam was harnessed for mechanical production. The invention of the first mechanised loom was a watershed.
  • Second Industrial Revolution. In 1870, mass production powered by electricity was first introduced. The assembly line was invented and the industrial sector speeded up exponentially.
  • Third Industrial Revolution. In 1969, advances in computing led to machine programming, which opened the door to progressive automation.

Around 2014, the industry experienced another "about turn" with the appearance of smart factories and online production management. Returning to Schwab and his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the German economist foresaw what was to come: "We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another". In its scale, scope and complexity, what I consider to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before. And this is for three reasons about which the experts agree: Its speed, scope and unprecedented impact.

Industrial revolutions throughout history.#RRSSIndustrial revolutions throughout history.

 SEE INFOGRAPHIC: Industrial revolutions throughout history [PDF]

EFFECTS AND ADVANTAGES OF THE FOURTH TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION

All revolutions have benefits and drawbacks, challenges and opportunities, uncertainties and certainties. In the case of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the advantages are evident: increased productivity, efficiency and quality in processes, greater safety for workers by reducing jobs in dangerous environments, enhanced decision making with data-based tools, improved competitiveness by developing customised products that satisfy consumers' needs, etc.

As far as the drawbacks are concerned, the experts point to many: the dizzying speed of change and the need to adapt, burgeoning cyber risks that force us to ramp up cybersecurity, high dependence on technology and the so-called digital gap, lack of qualified staff, etc. Regarding the latter, it is worth remembering that the deep impact of Industry 4.0 on employment is one of the biggest challenges for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the start of the process, a McKinsey Global report confirmed that up to 800 million jobs will have disappeared by 2030 as a result of automation. However, this may also be an opportunity, because, as novel technologies emerge, so will new professions that will create millions of jobs in new sectors.

TECHNOLOGIES OF THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Artificial Intelligence is set to be one of the key technologies in the sweeping transformation of the economy, society and the labour market. Consultant Michael Page adds other basic aspects of smart industry, which we have summarised below:

 Internet of things

Internet of things technology, which is designed to establish a connection between the physical and digital worlds, has revolutionised numerous sectors. In fact, billions of devices are already interconnected and more and more devices are becoming smart.

 Cobots

Robotics is constantly evolving and the cobots, specially designed to interact physically with humans in collaborative environments, will be key to industry. Among other things, they optimise production and save employees from doing monotonous and dangerous tasks.

 Augmented reality and virtual reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality, technologies that combine the real world and the digital world using computer science, enrich the visual experience of both users and consumers by generating immersive experiences.

 Big data

Information is power. The full-blown Fourth Industrial Revolution will allow us to change data into information. Big data allows massive data management and interpretation for business purposes, which is particularly relevant when devising business strategies or making decisions.

 3D and 4D printing

These days we have the means to develop prototypes — or products for sale — quickly, accurately and economically with 3D and 4D printing. This technology is becoming increasingly important in design, architecture, engineering, etc.