Manufacturing has been through three industrial revolutions from the use of water and steam to electricity to automation. The next revolution involves connecting existing machines to one network. Appropriately, it has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Since 2016, the World Economic Forum has been discussing what the Fourth Industrial Revolution may look like. Predicting how this new technology from artificial intelligence (AI) to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to augmented reality will affect the future of manufacturing is an impossible task. Just thinking about the amount of variables that influence the industry is daunting. Companies will have the struggle of finding the right time to integrate and rely on the technology.
According to a study done by McKinsey & Company only 5% of occupations consist of activities that are 100% automatable. The same study showed that 62% of occupations have activities that are 30% automatable – this is the opportunity for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Companies embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution are achieving results in two ways:
- Innovating and improving their production system and outputs.
- Innovating and changing the way their products are brought to market.
Innovating and improving production system and outputs:
Companies are improving production and quality by gathering data on themselves. Companies are creating their own IIoT networks to connect machinery currently in place with the use of sensors. This allows the gathering of real time data on production output as well as equipment wear. The data allows companies to better plan inventory buys, timing of shipments and maintenance.
Within the manufacturing workforce, the thought of automation can bring a stigma. The increase in productivity and efficiencies will often lead to more job growth. In two examples cited in a Forbes article, companies that implemented this technology experienced over 50% job growth.
Innovating and changing the way their products are brought to market:
Companies going down this path focus on data from their customers. In order to be successful and move at the necessary speed required, companies are using 3D printers to produce on-demand products. This process can include input from a customer through a web-based configurator that communicates directly to production. These changes allow companies that historically focused on a B2B business channel to move toward a B2C business channel.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is often thought of as an automating process with little human input. The reality is that these changes can be made using production equipment currently in place. Software or network changes are often scalable. The relatively cheap costs of network hardware and network or website scalability allows small and medium sized companies to compete in any market.