Thursday, December 1, 2016

What to expect in the 4th Industrial Revolution

By Mike James, Chairman, MESA International Board of Directors 

In April 2013 at Hannover Messe, a consortium of universities, research institutions and industrial companies in Germany presented a report which called for investment, awareness, ideas and further research to help realise ­Industry 4.0 – a term used to describe a wide variety of innovations in IT, manufacturing technology and materials that will lead to the fourth industrial revolution.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition in the US is supporting the development of smart manufacturing – systems that integrate manufacturing intelligence in real-time across an entire production operation.

Tesla Robot Dance by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0)

Essentially, the industrialised countries have spotted an opportunity. Each wants to be at the forefront of the new industrial revolution – a revolution which is expected to bring manufacturing back to Europe and North America, and create high value-added jobs.

Social, technology and green changes are driving the revolution, which will lead to the individualisation of mass production. Everything from your car to your shoes will be made to your specifications, but still mass produced.

This is a social change and we estimate that people are willing to pay around 10-15% more for a unique product. At the same time, they expect to be able to get their hands on their purchase almost immediately, and this is driving the trend to make products locally.

Green is having a major impact too; we do not want any waste, and we do not want to use precious fuel to transport goods unnecessarily. Again, this will lead to small-scale, localised manufacturing. Microbreweries are already leading the charge in this respect.

In the fourth industrial revolution, manufacturing plants will be self-organising. Products and machines will be able to talk to each other, and they will have chips with detailed manufacturing instructions embedded in them.

Then there is the concept of cyber physical systems. Our plants, products and equipment will first be built in simulated environments and virtual reality will be used to check the feasibility, layout, quality and volume that can be achieved. Not a foundation stone will be laid of the physical factory before the virtual factory has been perfected.

So how can manufacturers drive forward this next industrial revolution? Please discuss in the comments.
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