Few of us, in our daily lives as consumers, give a thought to how things are made, these days. I’m talking about how manufacturing works.
So what, you may ask?
In my work, creating web content and podcasts for companies in the technology space, I have absorbed a few grams of knowledge from what is referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s called this because that’s what it is: a revolution and we are smack in the middle of something that is changing our lives dramatically.
As mere consumers, though, we really don’t see this revolution in industry; we focus on the latest smartphones and hand-held devices, to be sure, but not much more. If you happen to have a “smart fridge” in your home or one of the “smart speakers”, then you begin to have an inkling of what’s going on in the world of technology today.
Let’s get back to manufacturing. I recently wrote an eBook for a Quebec-based company that provides digital information technologies to the province’s manufacturing base. I was stunned to learn what digitization in a factory setting could do: control the timing and delivery of inventory, bring raw materials to the start of the production line only as needed, track the movement of materials as they morph from raw product to finished product and alert other inter-connected devices of problems or bottle-necks along the way, create fully custom products for individual customers, one at a time, without retooling the entire operation – the list of capabilities goes on.
“Back in the day”, an assembly line bottle-neck or machine breakdown could bring an entire manufacturing operation to a halt. Today, problems and issues are pinpointed before they flare up and impact the system. The whole time, in the background, billions of ones and zeroes are hard at work.
I do a lot of highway driving and, during one trip, it struck me that there are far fewer vehicles broken down at the side of the highway than ever before.
Are car owners taking better care of their vehicles? I doubt it! Vehicles are breaking down less and lasting longer than ever because they have been designed and built better.
This better design and construction is directly related to Industry 4.0.
New materials and ways of using those materials factor into the story. Lean technologies also play a critical role.
One of the enormous strengths of digital technology is the ability for manufacturers to test new parts designs in virtual reality before actually building them. A part can be stressed virtually, in mere minutes, compared to the manufacturing of a prototype part that’s placed in a test vehicle and driven around a track, 24 hours a day, for weeks at a time. I’m simplifying to make the point; what used to take days and weeks now takes a few hours and costs nothing more than the expense of bandwidth.
Along with Industry 4.0 (the other name for what’s going on) and the revolution it’s leading, we must consider AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics. Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog called Donald Trump and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which I argued that Trump’s campaign promise to bring back thousands of factory jobs was a statement grounded in ignorance; there is an enormous skills gap today with employers looking for, but not finding, skilled employees. Education in America – and many other developed countries – needs to pivot to begin teaching the sought-after skills of today. Manufacturers are using digital technology available now with robotics and AI to help run their plant operations. Automation is the reality. The era of the assembly line worker is over. The era of the tech-savvy employee is here.
Job loss is an issue with the full automation of factories but think back to the First Industrial Revolution that ushered in the age of steam technology. It quickly generated millions of new kinds of jobs. I would argue the same thing can happen within the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Industry 4.0 is a terrific story whose telling is still in the early chapters. Revolutions always bring upset mixed with promise but the promise, more often than not, bears out. Besides, technology has already proven its worth, over and over.
At Conquest Communications, we are using digital technology every day in designing and crafting effective methods that allow our clients to deliver their message directly to their base.
If you’re looking for a communications company that can help you tell the story of Industry 4.0 in your business and help you reach your clients and customer base with unique communications strategies, please contact us at Conquest Communications.