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In the world of manufacturing, there is no shortage of buzzwords. It seems like every idea and strategy has to be backed by some type of trendy buzzword like lean, agile, or Six Sigma. One of the latest of these buzzwords to really take off in popularity is that of Industry 4.0.

Now, before you read more about what industry 4.0 really is, it is important to remember that buzzwords and trends are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they can really make it easier to find and implement new strategies that can dramatically improve the way your business gets things done.

What is Industry 4.0?

Overview of industry 4.0

The concept behind industry 4.0 is taking the digital age in manufacturing to an entirely new level by incorporating advanced technologies. Specifically, this would include the enhanced use of computer systems that control machines using full autonomation, data collection, machine learning, and even artificial intelligence.

By harnessing these advanced technologies, many industries are experiencing amazing improvements in efficiency, accuracy, waste reduction, and much more.

What About Industry 1, 2, and 3?

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Industry 4.0 is commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. Most industry experts would say that the three industrial revolutions that took place in the past would be loosely defined as follows:

  • Industry 1.0 – This took place in the 1700’s and 1800’s and was where the manufacturing industry moved from manual labor to using machines, generally powered by steam or water.
  • Industry 2.0 – In this phase, which occurred in the early 1900’s, manufacturing evolved into using electricity, which dramatically changed the way things were produced.
  • Industry 3.0 – Starting in the 1950’s, industry 3.0 is when basic automation and digital technology started to come into play. This revolution continued through the early 2000’s.

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Key Aspects to Understand About Industry 4.0

Some critics of the idea of industry 4.0 suggest that the latest technologies being used are simply advancements on the digital age of manufacturing, and do not represent a new revolution. Instead, they would suggest, things like machine learning and artificial intelligence would just be another step in the third industrial revolution.

Other experts, however, agree that the advancements in this technology have been significant enough to signal a clear end to industry 3.0 and a beginning to industry 4.0. While it is true that computers have helped to modernize manufacturing for years now, there are some key aspects of the most modern advancements that set it apart.

Autonomous Machinery

Smart robot
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Machines have long been automating tasks that humans used to have to perform. Advanced systems of today, however, do not simply perform a repetitive task over and over again on their own. They actually analyze a situation and make decisions on how to proceed. The best manufacturing equipment that is being used today can actually learn about what its end goal is and find ways to improve it.

This is a major divergence from machine automation to authentically autonomous manufacturing. The machines, for example, can discover problems that were not previously known, and determine the best way to fix those problems. Their solutions are then automatically implemented without any need to have humans involved. This is obviously going to represent a much more efficient way of manufacturing many types of goods.  

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Active Data Collection and Machine Learning

Another key aspect of the evolution of manufacturing is that modern systems can actively collect data about the work being done. This is accomplished through the use of advanced sensors and other tools. The data is then analyzed by the computer systems operating the machinery. Through a process of machine learning, these systems can actually adjust how work is being performed in order to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, cut defects, and much more.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence
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Some of the most cutting-edge manufacturing systems of today are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize their performance. Artificial intelligence goes well beyond simply having a computer system learn how to efficiently create a specific part. It is able to look more holistically at the system and adjust the entire way that things are being done.

Artificial intelligence is helping to revolutionize many areas of the world, with manufacturing being one of the most significant. As AI continues to become more and more advanced, there is no doubt that the manufacturing industry will evolve along with it to be able to create amazing products more efficiently and effectively than ever.

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Incorporating Industry 4.0 Into Your Business

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If you own or manage any type of manufacturing facility, you will want to take steps into the industry 4.0 world. While the most advanced systems are generally only available to the largest facilities that can afford them, there are many different types of basic data gathering, machine learning, and even artificial intelligence that even small manufacturing facilities can take advantage of.

For example, almost any manufacturing facility can install cameras, sensors, and other equipment to gather data about how a process works. This data can then be analyzed by computer systems to get recommendations on what improvements can be made. Even if the systems are not truly autonomous at this point, it would be a significant step in that direction.

In order to enter the industry 4.0 revolution, facilities need to make sure that they are keeping their technical systems up to date, and always taking advantage of the latest technology and trends. The world of manufacturing is evolving rapidly, and companies that are unable to keep up will be quickly surpassed by businesses that are better able to make the changes that are needed.

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Michael Levanduski

Author Michael Levanduski

Michael Levanduski is a writer with over 20 years of experience working in the IT industry. He regularly writes for a variety of different publications, providing content on a wide range of different topics, including multiple different niches within the tech field. He lives in West Michigan with his family where he enjoys camping, hiking, and of course, writing.

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