What is Industry 4.0

By Cara Winther
17 Jun 20

What is Industry 4.0 

Great question! If you're like me, and I hope you are, you've heard this expression more than once. Maybe you were in a meeting or at a conference when you first heard someone say, "Industry Four Dot Oh", back in the days when we still attended meetings and conferences in person.

You might have texted a giant question mark to your colleague, the nice one, not the know-it-all bully. Maybe your buddy knew and maybe not. If you've been introduced to Industry 4.0 more recently, you were probably on a video conference call. And thank goodness for that! You could discretely Google Industry 4.0, and the highly knowledgeable speaker was none the wiser. Not to mention that bully. 

Since you are like me, you also want to know where the expression Industry 4.0 came from, not just what it means. Oh, I'm so glad you want to know! Industry 4.0 refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We all learned what the Industrial Revolution was when we were growing up, probably in junior high. Some of us revisited the Industrial Revolution in greater depth in high school. Since we're talking about Industry 4.0, let's briefly touch on its predecessors. 

The First Industrial Revolution officially began in 1765 and lasted nearly one hundred years. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was no business that could be considered global, national, or even regional. In the two hundred years leading up to the First Industrial Revolution, business had just started branching out, exploring opportunities outside of their immediate hamlets. They were still limited by how far you could walk or ride by horseback in a day.

Industry 1.0

The First Industrial Revolution saw the use of water and steam power for mechanization for the first time, enabling production in a manner theretofore unknown. This made it possible for regional growth in rural industries, including agriculture. Goods were produced with bigger markets in mind. Consumers would pay for these products, a dramatic shift from people making or growing things themselves. 

Industry 2.0

The Second Industrial Revolution, which began in 1870,  utilized electricity and electric power to enable mass production for the first time in history. Although static electricity was identified centuries earlier, 127 years would still pass between the time Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment during a lightning storm in 1752 and 1879 when Thomas Edison invented and publicly displayed the first long lasting incandescent light bulb. Where would all of us manufacturing junkies be without mass production? Along with Edison, think Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla. Electricity + Automobiles = Electric Car. No, the irony is not lost on this writer. 

Industry 3.0

The Third Industrial Revolution saw the implementation of electronics and technology to automate production. Given this combination, it's not surprising that the Third Industrial Revolution began in 1969. This was the first time computers were added to production processes on a large scale. We often presume digitization is a brand new concept, when in reality, it has been part of the wonderful world of manufacturing for more than 50 years! 

What is Industry 4.0

Now that we're all up to date historically speaking, what is Industry 4.0? In many ways, Industry 4.0 is the culmination of these revolutions. An ongoing evolution of how we approach business and doing business. A natural next step in survival of the fittest. 

This quote from an entirely unrelated realm speaks to this evolution and illustrates how universal Industry 4.0 is: "It is those things that are unchanging that allow us to make sense of change." At a time when change has never been more prevalent or more intense, what is unchanging may be more important than ever. Industry 4.0 does not mean casting off everything familiar. On the contrary. Industry 4.0 advocates connecting everything you know. 

Industry 4.0 uses advanced technologies to help us look at all of these familiar things in a new way. Everything is connected in ways that were not possible before. Imagine being able to reinvent not only processes, but also products in a way we couldn't have dreamed of only ten years ago. 

Skeptical? Oh really. Before the year 2020, did you ever think you'd see a time when a 'sticky note' manufacturer would be producing respirators? When a vodka distillery in Utah would mass produce hand sanitizer? When the world's biggest airbag manufacturer would change over their production lines to produce face masks? How about members of the Big 3 revamping and retooling to manufacture ventilators? When one of the unquestionable giants of the Tech World, and the apple of this writer's eye (hint, hint), would turn their sights to producing medical face masks? 

'What is Industry 4.0' evokes entirely different responses now than it did just six months ago. Without this shift in thinking, would any of the dramatic reinventing above have been conceivable, let alone possible? Connecting seemingly disparate technologies is arguably the epitome of Industry 4.0. Necessity has again proven herself to be the Mother of Invention. And her BFF, Industry 4.0, has stepped up to be the Mother of Reinvention. 

What is Industry 4.0 to You?

What does Industry 4.0 mean to you personally? And what does Industry 4.0 mean for your business? And why is it important that you understand and embrace Industry 4.0? If you're reading this blog on your Smart Phone, laptop, tablet, or your Smart TV, you're already clued in to the answer. It's right in front of your eyes and it's all around us. Look up^^^! That's it! See those clouds? Aha! Yet another element of Industry 4.0. And those giant fluffy clouds that look like cartoon characters aren't scary in the least. That's where all your data lives: in the Cloud. It's safe and secure and doesn't gobble up all of your precious real estate. This technological marvel allows us manufacturers to redefine products from concept through design and engineering right to the shop floor. 

Most changes are undertaken as a means to improve the overall performance of an organization. Likewise, the intent of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes is to increase operational efficiency and output. Along with cloud computing, Industry 4.0 incorporates artificial intelligence and digitization to facilitate and accelerate growth. Now that we've talked about and all of us have a better understanding of what constitutes Industry 4.0, let's move on to why this matters to you and to your business. 

Being connected across all disciplines within your organization helps propel you forward in the direction you need to go. Effective data analytics is critical. This is not about compiling data for data's sake. Having accurate, timely information is essential to make good business decisions. Making data visible throughout your company encourages the level of buy-in necessary for everyone to be on board. Full transparency further ensures that all players are vested in the process. It's hard to be complacent when you feel like you've got a horse in the race. 

 

Given what we have all gone through recently, if the value of Industry 4.0 was not readily apparent before, it certainly is now. Without the advantages offered by adopting Industry 4.0, how many of our organizations would have ground to a halt over the past weeks and months? With little or no notice, suddenly people are working from home. Most of us who were born and raised in manufacturing don't feel comfortable sitting in our offices, let alone working from home. That all changed, seemingly overnight. How could we ensure that folks would have the tools they needed to perform their jobs? How could we feel certain their work environment continued to be safe? 

Remote Monitoring of Machines

One aspect of Industry 4.0 is the ability to monitor machines remotely. Sensors, instrumentation, data being sent from PLCs, all enable communication with our associates immediately should any problems arise. For anyone who could not be physically present over the past weeks and months, being fully connected brought a great deal of peace of mind. For many people, it brought more than that.

Not being physically present did not mean people weren't still responsible. Have you heard this one? "It's not your fault, but it's still your problem." The show must go on. Government compliance doesn't recognize a shut down. Equipment and processes still have to be controlled. Materials, production, even ERP systems are integrated with Industry 4.0. The advantages of merging existing data silos became undeniable. True digital transformation has profound implications for an organization. Fewer than 15% of all businesses have realized the full impact of their digital investments. Those businesses have achieved cost savings and created sustainable growth, putting them on firm footing for the foreseeable future. 

Industry 4.0 and L2L

This is where L2L and our Lean Execution System really shine. Since our inception, the focus of L2L has been to facilitate this transition to Industry 4.0, long before that name was conceived. L2L's LES was born of the need to connect people, processes, and data; throughout your plant and across the globe. We make all of this possible in one simple and simply profound software. We cut our teeth during hard times. Like you, we've tightened our belts and got our hands dirty, so you don't have to. With L2L, everything you need to know is brought together in one place. Seamlessly automated in a soft landing spot called the Cloud. Sure, we work in the Cloud, but we live in the real world. Just like you. 

When we look back on the year 2020 years from now, will we shake our heads with the hindsight that is 20/20? Or will we pat ourselves on the back remembering how we were driving forces in the adoption of Industry 4.0? Be the latter. What is Industry 4.0? 

20/20 foresight. 

Let L2L illuminate the path and help you navigate and succeed in the new Industry 4.0 reality!  Check out our free guide: Are You Ready For Manufacturing 4.0?

Also, read our interview with the father of Industry 4.0, Henrik von Scheel: Welcome to Industry 4.0 Manufacturing.

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