The first Industrial Revolution was initiated by the introduction of the commercial steam engine and the birth of the textile industry. The second was sparked by electricity and mass production. And the third was triggered by the computer after World War 2.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, believes we're well underway with the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. It refers to major innovations in technology which are coming into maturity at the same time, embedded by companies around the world, integrating the virtual and physical worlds to bring forth powerful new ways of working. The follwing are examples:

 

01

Internet of Things

The fusion of physical objects such as software, sensors and electronic items with Internet and machine-enabled data collection and transfer. IoT allows real-time communication, initiating physical systems and giving rise to ‘smart cities’. This means that traditional supply chains can become more digitised and connected – becoming completely integrated ecosystems that are fully transparent to the contributing marketing, product development, manufacturing, and distribution departments.

02

Big data and advanced analytics

With the Internet of Things comes a huge amount of data, and the way businesses read and analyse it is important, especially if it involves critical events such as power outages or an attempted data breach. In manufacturing, the availability of data from product development, production and testing for example, can add new dimensions to manufacturing, allowing targeted innovation, marketing and decision making.

03

Robotics and automation

Robots are already used extensively in the manufacturing world – mechanical arms on assembly arms for example. Industry 4.0 could see the contribution of robots massively increasing, and with the ‘smart factories’ we could see these robots taking ownership of manufacturing and bringing them to customers by themselves, thanks to computing and communication systems being linked to physical systems.

04

Simulations, 3D printing and augmented reality

Already commonplace today, goods can be virtually modelled and tested, saving time and reducing the materials, efforts and money spent. Through 3D printing we can see the creation of customised, complex and lightweight designs at remarkable speeds, while augmented reality sees a future where employees can be trained on the job far more effectively than with paper or monitors.