Five reasons to bet (now) on a fourth industrial revolution
“The kaleidoscope has been shaken; the pieces are in flux.” It is a phrase written for the political age, almost two decades ago. But as an analogy for ground-shaking change, it suits the mad-paced technology market’s face-off with industry particularly well.
For the technology market loves hype, and there is none bigger – nor more assured – than its coming impact upon the broad industrial market, and on manufacturing in particular. This so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – after the eras of steam power, electrical power, and the first phase of computer power – is about to break big.
“The manufacturing landscape is about to change and change in a big way,” explains Stuart Carlaw, chief research officer at ABI research, in an analyst note, posted after his return from the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago last month.
For market commentators, debate over the impact of digitisation in the market has passed. “The pieces are in flux; soon they will settle again,” goes the quotation. Instead, the big questions for enterprises are how to deploy the technology, and when to expect a return – or, in the portentous language of most sci-fi premonitions, how to sow the wind, to reap the storm.
Except this digital transmogrification will turn the default dystopia of science fiction on its head. The whirlwind is fertile. It is not the end of industry, or of jobs; it can be a good place, which presents earth-quaking opportunities for enterprises, rather than just ground-breaking chaos. It can be clean, and green, and sustainable for society.
Of course, there are choices and consequences; governments must bring order, and private institutions must be utterly open and responsible, and held to account. Discussions must be had, and standards must be set. “Soon they will settle again; before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”
The alternative is impossible, anyway, as Carlaw writes in his IMTS summary about manufacturing. Lifted entirely from Carlaw’s ABI release, the below list makes clear the revolution is already written, and it is futile, no reckless, for industrialists not to embrace it.
It should one noted the first four entries in the list describe the market dynamics in the manufacturing sector, and make change necessary. The last entry, about the advancement of technology, makes change possible; it also furthers the market dynamics at play, of course.
“The manufacturing market needs education and evangelism. The conservative nature of the manufacturing market must give way to the real-world pressures that are knocking at the door. The time to change is now,” says Carlaw.
More than this, the industrial sector should take the opportunity to re-order its world, while it can – as pieces of an even bigger game.
1 | LABOUR SHORTAGE
“For developed markets, a labour shortage is a massive issue. Finding people to work on production lines is hard and expensive.”
2 | ORDER CUSTOMISATION
“The manufacturing process is becoming more complex with huge amounts of customisation occurring right down on the production line. This has impact on scale, cost, profitability, and the ability to meet demand.”
3 | ORDER VOLUMES
“Smaller jobs are becoming more of the norm, and the notion of a ‘lot size of one’ is something that should frighten all manufacturers. It has massive impacts on machine downtime, tooling changes and, ultimately, profitability.”
4 | ENERGY COSTS
“Although not immediately apparent, the cost of energy is a significant inhibiting factor, and it is only going to get worse.
5 | ENABLING TECHNOLOGY
“There are several emerging technologies will enable manufacturers in developing markets to remain competitive. Additive manufacturing is on the cusp of being able to demonstrate its applicability for scale deployment.
“Generative design promises to reduce wastage, speed design processes, and revolutionise material usage. Virtualisation, visualisation, and digital twins are set to reduce machine downtime and improve the efficiency.
“Cobots and robots are set to enable a more efficient and zero touch environment that optimises the shop floor. Artificial intelligence and connectivity will be key to optimising productivity.”
For more on how technology is changing industry, check out Enterprise IoT Insights’ state-of-the-market report on smart manufacturing. Go here to download the report. Listen here to a webinar on the same theme, with experts from ABI Research, ADLINK, Convergio, Hitachi Vantara, MESA International and PTC discussing seminal use cases and best practices for smart manufacturing.