Industry 4.0 changes the industry as we know it since the industrial revolution. Imagine having personalised products and services, perfectly fitted just for you, at your fingertips. With Industry 4.0, this becomes a reality because it drives innovation and introduces new technologies on such a massive scale that it will affect our whole society.
3d-printing, sensors, and blockchain are a few of the original words we need to adopt into our vocabulary. All these technologies will have a significant impact on the way we work and consume soon.
Sensors and machine-to-machine networks are not new to industries. What will change is the way they interact. For instance, data is still in silos, but Brainwork and paperwork are still substantial, and processes are often dependent on specific individuals.
“All this is changing with industry 4.0. This shift means taking full advantage of connectivity and use data across boundaries”, says Matthias Roese, industry expert and Chief Technologist Manufacturing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Consolidating data from internal processes and assembly lines, integrating equipment and technology from many different providers, is the first step. The next is integration with subcontractors, retailers and the product itself.
“Looking just a few years into the future, we see a world covering systems of systems. For example, the connected car manufacturer builds and owns not just the car itself, but drive an entire ecosystem”, says Matthias Roese.
With this vision, in what ways will industry 4.0 impact our society? Matthias sees the following:
New manufacturing processes will make it possible to customise products on a whole new level:
“We will see a massive increase in customised solutions. You will be able to customise and configure products to your needs on a detailed level, including everything from cars to personalised medicine.”
3d-printing on an industrial scale means less transportation and increased supply:
“We are already working with companies that don’t ship but build spare parts across the globe. Which means less global footprint and increases speed and innovation and will also help us bring jobs back.”
Industry 4.0, especially when coupled with machine learning and artificial intelligence, will substantially change conditions for workers:
“Many jobs will disappear while we will gain a lot of new jobs, and many repetitive tasks will shift from manual labour to automation. It will have a big impact.”
Manufacturing will change, and this will affect industries on a global scale, and the labour advantages China currently have will be less critical due to automation and time-to-market:
“Many high-cost countries are scared about robotics, but already have hundreds of these robots in their industries, which will increase into the thousands. But it is important to make this shift carefully. Much manufacturing will move back from China and closer to the consumers.”
Blockchain technology is not only disrupting banking and finance, but it also has the potential to impact many industries and community as a whole. For instance, this technology can enable a car to provide for itself during its lifecycle.
“In the manufacturing process, a digital wallet, based on blockchain technology, can be installed in the car. This wallet works by logging all transactions made involving the vehicle, including maintenance, modifications, charging or filling up gas, naming a few. It makes it possible to predetermine the total cost of ownership and calculate return on investment for the car on a very detailed level, says Matthias Roese. One of many examples of how enterprises are experimenting with new technologies, changing their manufacturing processes and building differentiation through innovation. But what will happen to the companies that are not taking part in this shift?
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“Those who don’t do anything are in trouble. The only exception is very specialised industries that do something no one else can’t”, says Matthias Roese.
Matthias’s advice for companies is to look into digitisation but do it carefully. Industries change fast and to stay ahead of the competition, and you have to as well. Working in iterative processes, starting small and scaling up is key for success.
There are numerous examples of failed digitisation projects in the last couple of years. The danger is that bold visions requiring huge budgets and many years of implementation that end up in even more complexity and very questionable results.
“Start with small pilots. In other words, think global but act locally. You already have much know-how within the company and probably already have ideas on how to use sensors or improve customisation in your products”, Matthias Roese ends.