Digital transformation in the form of Industry 4.0

Digital transformation in the form of Industry 4.0

Paul Marley on digital transformation in the form of Industry 4.0.
Mr Marley has been involved in the fluid power industry for over 30 years as a hydraulic fitter and technical trainer.

What is Industry 4.0 – where does it come from?

The fourth industrial revolution is known as Industry 4.0.

To go back, the first industrial revolution was a change from an agrarian society to one based on industry and employment. 

A revolution is something that only goes in one direction – if it goes backwards it’s a fad. This was a revolution because it changed the world with regard to mechanisation, and it changed transport and trade. Trade became global rather than just being at the village level, driven by the mechanisation of things. 

If you visualise the technology used at the time then steam-powered machines come to mind.

However, hydraulics also had a big part to play because hydraulic systems were powered by steam, or more correctly, the burning coal created steam which drove the hydraulic pumps to enable heavy work. 

Hydraulic power provided the ability to lift heavy loads, stamp, forge and rivet. It played a big role, which I emphasise as I have a passion for hydraulics. 

The second industrial revolution was seen as an acceleration point from the first industrial revolution as a result of the introduction of electricity, bringing with it electrical drives, electrical motors and mass production. 

The third industrial revolution was another acceleration point brought on by the development of computers, automation, and controls – primarily industrial controllers and the computers that drive them.

And then the fourth industrial revolution was characterised by connectivity and cyber physical systems.

Revolutions and their interesting timelines 

The first industrial revolution started around 1760 to 1830. 

This is relevant because its commencement is debated and vague. 

The actual term ‘industrial revolution’ was coined by Arnold Toynbee (1852-83) who in retrospect realised a revolution had occurred. No-one ever said ‘let’s revolutionise things’ at the start of 1760. And that constitutes a key difference in terms of how we’re now looking forward and saying that this is the fourth revolution. 

Then in 1800 Alessandro Volta worked out how to make a battery followed by Hans Christian Ørsted working out that when he energised an electric wire it affected his compass. This gave the realisation magnetism affects electricity and electricity affects magnetism. And from there another gentleman got in and said we can make electricity affect a mechanical thing. 

Electrical motors were then developed, pointing to the second industrial revolution. 

The third industrial revolution started around the late 1960s with the development of computers, and the fourth industrial revolution started with the term being coined in 2011 by the World Economic Forum at Hannover Messe. 

That begs the question as to why the fourth industrial revolution is still considered new in 2021, ten years later. That’s because if you look at historical events there’s always a bit of a lag or an adoption phase when it comes to technology.

This is seen in Thomas Newcomen inventing the atmospheric engine in 1712 followed by a lag time of 50 years where nothing really happened in terms of steam development until the start of the first industrial revolution round 1760.

Then in 1763 Boulton and Watt patented the steam engine that pointed to the beginning of the technical maturity that enabled steam to be used much more efficiently. 

There’s a parallel here because in 2021 we’d already had computers for 50 years, highlighting that what categorises Industry 4.0 and makes it distinct from Industry 3.0. Computers and connectivity has now reached a level of technical maturity that enables many things to be done that weren’t possible before. 

Connection between lloT and Industry 4.0

Many people are asking whether the Industrial Internet of Things (lloT) and Industry 4.0 are the same thing. That depends on where you are on the planet.

This is because the World Economic Forum released Industry 4.0 as a European concept, with the US not being familiar with it as the term and concept was never really presented to that market.

In my understanding lloT is only a small part of the enablers and the technologies that drive Industry 4.0, which is a much broader subject.

Industry 4.0’s inception at the World Economic Forum

Industry 4.0 was chaired by World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab (German engineer and economist) who has written a book on Industry 4.0 entitled, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to Schwab; “Of all the diverse and fascinating challenges we face today, the most intense and important is to understand the shape of the new technology revolution which entails nothing less than the transformation of humankind.”

He says “We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. The fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced to date in terms of its scale, scope and complexity.

The questions for all industries and companies, without exception, is no longer whether disruption will take place but when it is coming”.

How does Industry 4.0 tie in with digital transformation?

If you distil all of this into a little container, what does it mean, what is in this container, what is the little nugget of knowledge that everyone's after?

My understanding is that Industry 4.0 is all about connectivity, efficiency and optimising business, including its processes, and using digital technologies to become modern in every sense.

On a practical level this entails that businesses select new technologies that will differentiate them in the marketplace and enable them to gain competitive advantage, better products, better systems and more efficient production, and distribution.

This includes transforming their digital profile, which relates to how they look to the world, with the caveat being that if they’re not on the internet and not strongly represented there, they don’t exist for much of the population. 

Businesses also need to optimise their websites and have apps because it’s well known that the younger generation has a predilection for apps. 

Social media also should be used in the face of people, regardless of whether they want that presence or not. And the web should be used to gain efficiencies, which could include online ordering and parts tracking.

Digital connectivity can also be used to control and understand distribution supply chains better. This is because being able to see vertical and horizontal supply chains facilitates closer connectivity with suppliers and distributors. 

With regards to manufacturing, Industry 4.0 has some technologies that can increase efficiency and response times. Ultimately, this will lead to a better product, fewer defects, and more efficient production.

And finally a business should focus on adding value to everything it does. This could entail the use of data and data analytics to improve every aspect of the business, including its digital profile, digital logistics, digital manufacturing, and digital value adding.