The road to Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing
Tracing the journey from the first industrial revolution to today’s connected digital factories: Read here about industry’s milestones, from its early beginnings through to Industry 4.0 today.
Companies in Germany are facing disruptive digital change. Many have already embarked on the process of transforming their businesses, yet at least as many are still looking for the right way forward with data-driven business models. Industry 4.0 is driving this change, but on its way to going digital, industrial manufacturing has passed through several key stages.
Mass production using machinery began around 1800, driven initially by water power and later by the steam engine. Early industrialization scored landmark successes in railroad construction, coal mining, heavy industry, steam-powered navigation, transportation, textile manufacture and textile printing. Industrialization rapidly gave rise to new factory-based jobs, leading to large-scale rural flight as people ceased working the land and left their villages to find factory work in the cities. As a result, cities worldwide began to grow swiftly.
The advent of electric power in the late nineteenth century heralded the second industrial revolution. With the expansion of automobile manufacturing in the early twentieth century, work on the factory floor became increasingly automated. Factory assembly lines churned out products in record time as motors took on more and more of the tasks traditionally performed by factory workers. Long-distance communication, too, was transformed by the invention of telegraphy and telephony. The success factors driving the second industrial revolution also marked the first steps toward globalization: Automating the production of automobiles, clothing, commodities and foods led to growth in transportation as goods and materials began to be moved across continents on a large scale.
The third industrial revolution, which began in the 1970s, centered on greater automation driven by advances in electronics and information technology. The large mechanical calculation machines of old were superseded by personal computers, which gradually made their way into offices and the home, fueling the emergence of a whole new sector of industry. Along with the PCs came fax machines, electronic mail, SMS text messaging and, later, the smartphone. At the same time, growth in aviation accelerated globalization, and factory production became largely automated.
In industry’s latest phase of revolution, the focus is on advancing the digitalization of analog technologies and the integration of cyber-physical systems. Many businesses have long since ceased producing for stock, having switched production to a make-to-order or demand-based model as continued advances in information processing and information technology have enabled organizations to transition successfully to just-in-time strategies. Parallel to the ongoing speed gains in manufacturing, standards of environmental protection and industrial safety have improved as well. Classic industry sectors are embracing digitalization to an ever increasing degree.
The Internet of things
The Internet is taking on a whole new level of importance as more and more physical objects are becoming connected. The Internet of Things (or IoT for short) consists of connected devices that are able to “talk” to one another or receive control commands. This capability makes it possible to automate applications and perform tasks without the need for manual human intervention. There is no standard definition of the Internet of Things as such; the term simply describes the use of the Internet to connect anything from everyday objects to industrial machinery. To communicate over the Internet and perform automated tasks, devices need to be equipped with the requisite electronics and assigned a unique identity in the form of a network address. Devices with more sophisticated capabilities are commonly described as “smart.”
Besides supporting machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, many of the connected devices also provide an interface that allows users to operate and control them across the Internet from any geographic location. This remote control capability can be used to perform tasks like predictive maintenance without having to halt system operation. Connecting machines in this way is the first step toward creating smart factories.