Is Industry 4.0 Really An Industrial Revolution?

It sounds kind of exciting and a little bit scary, but is it industry 4.0 really a revolution?

You’ve almost certainly heard of Industry 4.0, the interconnected, agile, and automated world.  You may also have heard Industry 4.0 described as the new industrial revolution, as we are beginning to see transformational technologies that are completely changing industry.

Well, we need to contextualise a little bit by looking at how Industry began, starting in the 1770s when we first moved to machines powered by water and steam.

The industrial revolution also brought about with it a number of things that impact business culture even today. This is where the 9am – 5pm working day originates from, when work was often more physically demanding. With it also came siloed ways of working and the general ‘top down’ approach that businesses take. A hundred years later began what we retrospectively call Industry 2.0, including the first steps in automation and assembly lines; the beginnings of factories as we know them. From around the 1970s, we moved to computer automation and electronics, the things that could be considered Industry 3.0.

But the 4.0 revolution is profoundly different. Digitalisation sits at the heart of it, as does, robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, like robots.

Underpinning 4.0 is the Internet of Things, smart machinery with sensors that connect to other machines, powered by vast amounts of data.

What are some common examples of Industry 4.0 at work?

3D Printing – this technology has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last decade, being used in manufacturing, transportation, health, fashion, and even the food sector. It’s particularly handy if a machinery manufacturer in Japan wants to produce a spare part for a customer based in the US at short notice, for example – the part can be 3D printed near the customer’s office and fitted in no time.

Smart sensors – These are devices that eliminate the need for human intervention or decision-making and can be a key component in electronic devices, industrial machinery, and even in buildings. One recent example is the Amazon till-less supermarket that has just opened in London. Cameras track shoppers, who are billed via their Amazon account for their groceries and therefore can walk out of the store without ringing through their purchases.

So, what does Industry 4.0 mean for those who work within it?

Industry 4.0 means a profound and fundamental change in almost every aspect of most businesses. It means completely new ways of creating, manufacturing, communicating, and managing.

There will be an increase in innovation thanks to new tech. Whilst innovation will prove a competitive edge for businesses, it may create fear for employees. Many may worry about being replaced by tech, AI, or automation. 

But with new tech brings new opportunities. There will be job roles created that we can’t even imagine today. For employees they’ll need an entirely new set of skills, so there’s big opportunities to learn, develop and reskill. 

This will also present an opportunity for business to reflect on their culture. With lots of new tech and opportunities to pivot and grow, cultures may need to shift and adapt. There’s a great chance here for businesses to think about values and behaviours and the impact they can have on the employees and the work they are doing. 

And with lots of change, it begs the question: how do you keep your people happy? 

This will mean that employees need to be taken on a journey. A new, exciting, unknown, and maybe at times kind of scary, journey.  If a revolution is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation, then yes, this is an industrial revolution.

So clearly, these shifts in business require thinking and planning about how to adjust our businesses, people skills, and processes to move into this new world.

If applied well, the fundamentals of Industry 4.0 will lead to greater productivity, more flexible operations and production, and business models that can harness greater diversity and upskilling of its workforce. There will be new products and services, and new levels of speed and agility, from doctor’s surgery diagnostic tools to one-of-a-kind luxury vehicles. There are plenty of upsides to consider with these technological changes, but also some risks.

 Ultimately, industry 4,0 is all about working smarter, not harder.

We’ve got deep experience with complexity and transformational change. Find out more about culture change in manufacturing and how we can help.