How can we tell if we are on the brink of an industrial revolution? Or perhaps already standing with one foot in? In 2011, the German government coined the expression Industry 4.0 to describe the connected factories of tomorrow. Since then, the term has become synonymous with the fourth industrial revolution – but what does it really mean?
Looking back at earlier industrial revolutions, it is quite easy to point out the technological breakthrough that enabled the revolution. Few would probably oppose the fact that the first three industrial revolutions were a result of the steam engine, electricity and electronics. What breakthrough we, in a 100 years from now, will look back at as the main cause of the fourth industrial revolution is a bit more unclear. According to Wikipedia, its most important constituents are robotics, AI, nanotechnology, quantum computers, biotechnology, internet of things, 3D printing and autonomous cars – rather a collection of technologies than a revolution, right?
I do not doubt for a second that we are heading towards a new paradigm, but I find it difficult to see that in a 100 years from now we will use eight technologies to describe it. Instead, I believe that we will look back on this period with one word. Data. When I say data, I refer to what we today call big data and, especially, the data mining aspect of it. Sure, when we think about the factories of tomorrow, most of us are thinking of Internet of Things – a factory where everything is connected. But connected to what purpose? What do we stand to benefit from the fact that the robot that tightens the nuts on a car can communicate with the rest of the factory?
Internet of Things gives us the opportunity to extract an incredible amount of data from every stage of the manufacturing process, but also from the complete life cycle of the product. Data that can be used to detect errors in the manufacturing process at an early stage. Data that can be used to improve artificial intelligence. Data that can be used to develop the next generation of products.
Whether you who are reading this concur with what I am writing or not, we can probably agree on the fact that in the next few years we will see tremendous changes in both the industry and the labour market as a whole. And, just as the third industrial revolution paved the way for our profession, a vast number of new jobs will now be created where only creativity sets the limits.
So, the next time you are about to connect some piece of electronic, take the time to think about what else you can do with the data that is now available.
Applications developer at Tritech
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