Manufacturing processes have certainly matured significantly since the early days of steam engines, now referred to as the first industrial revolution. Next came the days of Henry Ford’s assembly line, and production of the Model T at volumes never thought possible – representing the second industrial revolution. In the 1970s, computers revolutionized the workplace by performing calculations and tracking measurements and processes that were simply unimaginable 100 years ago. Clearly, computers and technology have continued to transform production processes.
Today, there is something spectacular that is starting to take hold. So, of course, there is now a race to come up with “the” name to call it. Some have called it a world where we will live with an “Internet of Things” or “IoT.” Others consider the term “smart devices” to really capture the essence of the transformation. In Europe, the phrase “Industry 4.0” is catching on. Regardless of what you call it, this is clearly a concept that is here to stay, having been already introduced on this blog in May of last year, with this post on the Industrial Internet. Personally, I believe the best description is to simply call it the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The 4th Industrial Revolution is a giant leap for manufacturing innovation, characterized by “smart devices” that can actually take control of machines on the shop floor by communicating autonomously “device-to-device” to manage manufacturing operations and distribution.
This type of scenario could create a significant level of manufacturing agility that would make it possible to connect customer needs with a company’s ability to deliver a product – virtually on demand. Consumers can now influence design and control production. Manufacturers are now better able to adapt quickly to specific consumer demands. Add in new technology that creates an unprecedented feedback loop between companies and their customers in which products could actually be designed – or highly influenced – by the end-user, and you have the makings for a revolution in how products are designed and produced.