What is Industry 4.0? Explained by an engineer for an engineer.

Until the scientific revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. 

Many faiths believed that someday a messiah would appear, as happened when Kevin Keegan joined Newcastle United. But the notion that progress could and would come from the discovery of new knowledge and inventing new tools and technologies was worse than ludicrous – it was hubris. The story of the Tower of Babel, the story of Icarus, the story of the Golem and countless other myths taught people that any attempt to go beyond established limitations would inevitably lead to disappointment and disaster.

When modern culture admitted that there were many important things that it still did not know, and when that admission of ignorance was married to the idea that scientific discoveries could give us new powers, people began to suspect real progress might be possible after all.

A famous example is lightening. Many cultures believed that lightening was the Hammer of an angry God, used to punish sinners. In the middle eighteenth century, in one of the most celebrated experiments in scientific history, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite during a lightning storm to test the theory that lightning is simply an electric current. Franklins observations, coupled with his knowledge about the qualities of electrical energy, enabled him to invent the lightning rod thus disarming the gods and protecting our tall buildings by releasing the electrical energy to earth in a harmless manner.

Fast forward to the 21st century, from smartphones to smart motor sensors, technology has played a major role in advancing most areas of our everyday lives – but it is also transforming the world of industry. 

Industry 4.0 is the label given to the gradual combination of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices with the increasingly technological world around us.

What happened to Industry 2.0 and 3.0?

Industry 4.0 is not a new technology, nor is it a business discipline, but in fact a new approach to achieve results that weren’t possible 10 years ago thanks to advancements in technology.

Some will also tell you that it’s in fact the fourth industrial revolution – but what does that mean?

The first industrial revolution saw Britain move from farming to factory production in the 19th Century. The second spanned the period from the 1850s to World War I and began with the introduction of steel, culminating in the early electrification of factories and the first spouts of mass production. Finally, the third industrial revolution refers to the change from analogue, mechanical, and electronic technology to digital technology that took place from the late 1950s to the late 1970s.

The fourth, then, is the move towards digitisation. Industry 4.0 will use the Internet of Things and cyberphysical systems such as sensors having the ability to collect data that can be used by manufacturers and producers. Secondly, the advancements in big data and powerful analytics means that systems can trawl through the huge sets of data and produce insights that can be acted upon quickly. Thirdly, the communications infrastructure backing this up is secure enough to be used by heavy industries.

The key word here is data, new technological advancement on Variable Speed Drives and Sensor technologies for motor and pumps means that data can be at hand to show Todays busy Engineers exactly what status each piece of process equipment is in at any given time. The benefit being the capacity to predict failures and plan rather than responding on a reactive basis. The problem we see with this is will businesses give their engineering teams the time needed to digest and assess the deluge of data and act accordingly? Time will tell.