When people think of the industrial revolution, one of two things may come to mind. Some people immediately think of the changes in manufacturing brought about by the use of machinery in the eighteenth century. Others may think of the industrial revolution as an ongoing reality that we still live in today. Both of these are correct. The first viewpoint speaks to the first industrial revolution, while current advances in technology represent the fourth industrial revolution. While most of this article focuses on Industry 4.0, it is important to fill in the gaps from the first to the current set of advances.
The First Industrial Revolution
The first revolution brought economies around the world out of agriculture and handcrafts, into the world of machines. While farming and handmade goods still form a large part of today’s economy, they are nonetheless affected by the use of machines.
According to Britannica, the revolution first began in Britain and then spread throughout the rest of the world. Here are some of the advances it introduced in manufacturing:
- Invention of new machines, such as the spinning jenny
- Improvements in transportation and communication
- Reliance on new energy sources, such as coal
- The use of new raw materials, such as steel
- Division of labor and worker specialization
The Second Industrial Revolution
To many people, a second revolution may come as a surprise. However, once put into context, it makes perfect sense. This revolution occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At this time, manufacturers began to experiment with more synthetic materials and machines evolved to play an even more important role in industry.
Inventors created computers, automatic operations came into existence and plastics joined the production line. World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, also helped to revolutionize manufacturing. Britannica notes that the two key features of the second industrial revolution are mass production and the use of electricity.
The Third Industrial Revolution
Meanwhile, the key features of the third industrial evolution were electronic devices and information technology system. This led to the rapid change from analog to more digital systems in manufacturing plants.
The new form of modernism took root in the 1950s and spread like wildfire. Automation software also made its debut at this time, taking over many of the menial tasks previously completed by humans. This led to perhaps the first big scare that machines would now lead to mass human unemployment.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Nicknamed Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, the fourth stage of the industrial revolution unfolded over the past few decades. The key feature of this revolution is cyber-physical systems. Organizations have also taken automation to a whole new level. In addition to this, whereas the prior revolutions mainly focused on economic changes, this time, political and cultural changes played equally important roles in how technology transformed America and the rest of the world.
Most of these changes were fast-tracked and then spread globally with the help of the Internet of Things. This provided a new level of interconnectivity that had never been seen before. Not only were people aware of events happening halfway across the world, but economies had become so intertwined that they were affected by them.
For all its social implications, Industry 4.0 is still primarily based on the changes to manufacturing. The current manufacturing process is more holistic, creating interlinks between the physical and the digital. This is what creates the cyber-physical ecosystem that characterizes this phase of the ongoing industrial revolution.
How To Apply Smart Manufacturing to Your Business
The truth is that not every business in America or the rest of the world has fully caught up with the advances of the newest revolution. Sometimes, this is entirely by choice. A company may hold on to traditional aesthetics and charge its customers a premium price for maintaining it. Other times, the company may not be able to afford the technology to advance. Finally, there are some companies that have the resources but are not sure of the applicability to the business. Here are four main smart manufacturing applications.
Manufacturers can now predict when potential problems may arise and plan ahead for them. Some of these plans are maintenance-related, allowing you to schedule routine inspections ahead of time based on the age and usage of each machine. Preventative maintenance is one of the best ways to reduce operating costs as it is almost always cheaper than fixing and eventually replacing the machines when they finally go out.
Supply Chain Management
Convenience drives the current consumer market, as do the changing demands of the consumers themselves. Entrepreneurs need to consistently innovate to deliver products and services faster and easier. Failure to do so creates a gap for competitors to fill. Owners of large companies are sometimes surprised to find that a smaller company may outbid them for that spot because they are more agile. These companies use technology to increase efficiency and speed.
Asset Tracking and Logistics
Pilfering is a big problem in retail, but it can also become problematic in manufacturing. Additionally, a company can lose track of equipment while moving or if it provides a rental service. Asset tracking helps to reduce the instances of this happening. When there are fleets involved in the logistics plan, whether they are company cars or commercial trucks, asset management can also help to keep track of each vehicle. During delivery, it can even show where the trucks are on the route and whether or not they are behind or ahead of time.
Upward and Downward Scaling
One of the main ways smaller companies have been able to outperform their larger competitors is by using smart manufacturing to improve scalability. By relying on tools like automation, they have the ability to scale their product offerings up for large clients and down again for smaller customers of their own size. This is especially useful for service-oriented companies, but is not always as easily done when they offer tangible products.
Challenges a Business Will Need To Overcome
Applying Industry 4.0 technology to your business won’t happen overnight. Even when it does, it will take time to train everyone and educate customers on the impending changes. Here are some of the potential challenges you should prepare for and what to do about them.
Safeguarding Information From Fraudsters
The more data you keep or use in your company, the more of a target you become to criminals. Thus, before you begin to rely on data analytics, you owe it to your customers and employees to first boost your cybersecurity initiatives. Failure to do so could leave your company open to claims of negligence, not to mention the loss of your customers’ trust.
Ensuring Employee Buy-In and Cooperation
Unless they are software developers or robotics engineers, employees are rarely excited about new technology. Managers often become frustrated by this and view the hostility from employees as unwarranted and a sign of laziness. The real problem is that technology affects job security. Managers need to keep that in mind so they can reassure employees and win buy-in and cooperation.
Creating a Proper Timeline for Upgrades
Managers often think they have to make that big tech jump in one giant leap. This is far from true. In fact, such a big change in a short period of time could topple the company. Instead, making smaller changes gives everyone time to adjust, while allowing the company to learn from any mistakes that will improve the next round of technological upgrades. It also provides managers with time enough to train employees and prepare them for the next step.
What Companies Should Embrace Smart Tech
With limited resources to spare, business executives often have to choose between innovation or expansion. Here are some of the reasons you may want to innovate before expanding:
- You want to hand off menial tasks, so you can focus on more creative aspects of management
- You belong to an industry of tech-savvy businesses that are highly competitive
- You prefer a proactive rather than reactive business strategy
- Your company collects, stores or processes a lot of data
- You serve a younger or more sophisticated clientele
- You want to cut costs and improve efficiency
Hire Industrial Marketers
While this article primarily focuses on how the fourth revolution affects industry, technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. Marketing has become as much a part of the personal as work life. People receive ads even in personal spaces from which organizations and commercial brands were previously excluded.
Digital tasks that were once considered automated are now considered manual and are further automated with no assistance from a human. Rather than act, AI now analyzes. And, rather than just analyze, it now predicts. As industrial marketers, we embrace the use of technology in all aspects of our work.
We believe in harnessing the power of big data to bring you the results you need so that you can continue to serve your customers as one of the best in your field. For information about how our marketing solutions can further help your business to evolve, contact Momentum at 586-265-2562.