The language of business changes all the time with the introduction of new buzzwords and concepts. Some stick, others blaze briefly before fizzling out to be forgotten. Firmly in the former category is the concept of Industry 4.0.  This is not a new idea – in fact it was first aired in Germany in 2011. But what was future-speak back then is now becoming reality, and the phrase and thinking remains current and persuasive.

In fact, with so many angles and takes on the central idea, it’s very easy to get lost in the detail. So, we thought it might be useful to strip things back and refresh your understanding.

To get to Industry 4.0 – also known as the fourth industrial revolution - we must first understand its predecessors.

  • The first industrial revolution
    Occurring at the end of 18th century (1760-1840), this introduced machines into production, replacing manual work with the use of steam-powered engines and water-power.
  • The second industrial revolution
    Dating between 1870 and 1914, this introduced pre-existing systems such as railroads and telegraphs into industry, speeding mass production.
  • The third industrial revolution
    Also referred to as the Information Age, this describes the period 1950-1970 and the change from analogue and mechanical systems to digital technology and the rise of computing.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 takes what was started in the third revolution – with the adoption of computers and automation – and enhances it with smart and autonomous systems driven by data and machine learning. Production becomes flexible, customizable and customer-oriented, with devices connecting to devices to ultimately make decisions with reduced human involvement.

So, what are some of the key advantages that Industry 4.0 will deliver?

Optimization

As Industry 4.0 unfolds, the prevalence of smart machines that keep getting smarter as they get access to more data will result in more efficient, productive and less wasteful processes. Businesses will benefit from being able to utilize production constantly and consistently.

Customisation

Digitisation makes the supply chain more agile and customer focused. New methods of tracking data and consumer experiences help to directly inform the manufacturing process. On demand products that are created based upon consumer input means more sales and fewer wasted resources.

The bottom-line

Of course, change doesn’t happen without the carrot of economic reward. According to Accenture “Only 13 percent of businesses have realized the full impact of their digital investments, enabling them to achieve cost savings and create growth. The optimal mix of technologies could save large companies up to $16 billion.”

Watch this space

With the Industry 4.0 concept now nearly ten years old, it’s already apparent that such a revolutionary approach to manufacturing and business cannot happen at speed. But what was once future-gazing is now becoming reality. Vanguard businesses are positioning people and technology to fully embrace the opportunities afforded by Industry 4.0.

Indeed, some of its ideas in terms of a sharpened customer-focus and processing agility are being championed in our own industry. Optimisation and customisation are ever-evolving challenges when related to print and mail production.

There is much more to read on the subject, and we hope this bite-size refresher stimulates you to investigate further. Perhaps start with this industry-specific look at the subject produced by Drupa.

There is also some very interesting and relevant analysis to be found in this report published by the World Economic Forum.

Now is the time for your own blue-sky-thinking as you consider how these principles might apply to your operation, even if in a very small, incremental way for now.

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