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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here

If you are not familiar with the term “Industry 4.0,” odds are it will become part of your everyday business vernacular soon. That phrase and others such as “advanced manufacturing” and “industrial internet,” are used to describe how technology is pushing new kinds of customized and highly efficient manufacturing processes that will revolutionize the production process as we know it. The factories of the future will include a supply chain where everything is connected wirelessly. “Things that were splintered in the past, like engineering, manufacturing [and] logistics are now [coming] seamlessly together,” CNNMoney reports.

The benefit to manufacturers is that Industry 4.0 will significantly increase production capabilities by identifying problems in the supply chain in real time and allowing for adjustments without delay. This will be accomplished by equipping tools, machines, vehicles and even buildings with thousands of microchips that communicate directly with each other. Production lines will become self-organizing and efficiencies will improve exponentially as a result. “The core technology of Industry 4.0 involves ‘cyber-physical’ systems that use sensors to collect data from the physical world for controlling production, logistics, engineering, and service processes,” according to SAP.

The first Industrial Revolution occurred in 1784 with the advent of steam, water and mechanical production equipment. That gave way to the second revolution with electricity and mass production in the late 1800s and by the 1970s the computer and the early form of the Internet were established to usher in the third revolution. Today, we find the barriers between humans and machines disappearing as we begin the fourth Industrial Revolution.

To be sure, a “digital workforce” will have an impact on humans’ interaction with the industrial production process. Fewer people will be required along some parts of the supply chain, but at the same time new skill sets will be needed for those who manage the technology. “As simple manual tasks disappear and customized production becomes the norm, workers can be assigned as needed to coordinate automated production processes and intervene when machines call for action.”

Production lines are also expected to be able to adjust to more localized and specific needs of customers to the point of creating “batches of one” on the fly. Data goes directly into the machines and when an order is placed the machine knows to produce a specific article. That kind of production adaptability will ultimately remove the costly and time-consuming pre-planning and machine set-up that goes into production lines. “Leading companies will gain competitive advantages by replacing rigid work patterns with flexible workforce deployment.” As a result, valuable human resources and capital will be liberated.

“As digital data increasingly becomes a critical source of innovation and value, business boundaries are being redrawn. Companies that automate and mine the vast amounts of data we continue to generate are getting ahead,” the World Economic Forum reports.