How Industry 4.0 Makes Our Businesses Better
Manufacturing is changing at a rapid pace, thanks to advancements in technology. It’s beyond replacing a few workers with robots.
Today’s industry is all about a fourth Industrial Revolution (4.0) in manufacturing. In going beyond adopting automation and computers, 4.0 takes things another step and creates smart systems that learn over time until they become self-determining without human input.
In an older survey of industry experts, researchers found about 48% of them believe robotics will displace blue-collar workers by 2025. With changes in computer speed, the number of experts who think machines will replace human workers is likely much higher today. They point to a tech-savvy change in manufacturing for the coming changes.
Factory automation is bad news for workers who must adjust and find new roles. But it is good news for companies that are looking to make products faster and less expensively.
The promise of automation also means brands can also be free of the ethical dilemma and public relations nightmare that arises when they manufacture using inexpensive labor from foreign countries. Apple, the most valuable brand in the world, is hurt by news stories due to the poor working conditions in the factories of their longtime supplier Foxconn. The latest being that the manufacturer broke Chinese labor laws by employing too many temporary workers by percentage.
Industry 4.0 may still have some challenges on the horizon as technology changes from year to year. However, it is also making businesses better and more efficient.
What Advancements Have We Seen?
In the last couple of decades, there have been some fantastic advances in manufacturing technology.
One new capability that has changed product development is 3D printing. Instead of creating a prototype with expensive molds, companies can now print out a model, test it, make changes, and repeat until they have perfected the design. Doing so allows manufacturers to develop new things more quickly and less expensively.
We already see new niche brands that use 3D printing as their only means of production. 3D Bot Maker is a top Etsy store that prints gates, tracks, and timers for people who want to race Hot Wheels cars. The brand builder creates high-quality YouTube videos presented like real races; only they are using tiny diecast cars.
Another advance in the last five or six years has been in artificial intelligence (AI). Computers are getting smarter and are learning to react autonomously.
Learning algorithms can look at big data sets that were previously meaningless to marketers and manufacturers. The algorithms can now predict the behavior of the consumer or sense when a machine part might break and send a repair technician to get ahead of the problem.
AI is also a component of many smart devices, which are growing as the Internet of Things (IoT) advances. Rapid innovations in AI technology impact nearly every type of business and free up workers to complete more creative tasks.
Check out the article on AI-enabled smart speakers here on BMB. We have industrial designers sound off on the designs of smart speakers made by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and more.
How 4.0 Impacts Different Industries
It’s easy to talk in general about how Industry 4.0 impacts the world, but specific industries benefit more considerably from the effect.
Medical: Doctors print body parts such as a heart to test out surgeries or treatments, or even replace a valve or other item in a human’s body.
Manufacturing: Sensors in the production line keep management informed of weak points where the equipment might break down. For example, a sensor can detect if a machine is overheating or shaking excessively. Factories are becoming smart factories, reducing the need for hands-on human interactivity.
Retail: The IoT has the most significant impact in this sector, using apps to ping smartphones when users are near the entrance of a store or to personalize the shopping experience. Digital price tags allow stores to change prices in real-time. Smart store fixturing will alert staff when product stock is getting low on a store shelf. And you might find robots roaming the aisles next time you go to the store; robots have been developed to help customers and stock shelves.
Industry 4.0 is creating globalization across every industry you can think of. People are more connected thanks to quick access to the cloud. Businesses are more likely to sell outside their country because they know new tech will help them keep up with demand.
Pros and Cons of Industry 4.0
There are many benefits for business owners as we move into the 4.0 age.
Productivity is often an issue with human workers, who get physically tired. Robotics remove the problem of human failure and fatigue.
However, replacing workers with machines also causes displaced workers who may have been loyal to your company for many years. Businesses must find new roles for individuals whose jobs become obsolete. Train your workers to program the new machines, do repair work, or focus on customer interactions.
Prepare your workers for 4.0, and you’ll likely hire more workers in the long run, rather than fewer.
A few years ago, researchers at BCG studied notable shifts in the world throughout history, such as the introduction of machine automation, the original Industrial Revolution, and so on. They found increased production and more demand for goods increased, rather than decreased, jobs. They predict the coming changes will transform the workforce through 2025, instead of reducing it.
Another benefit is that companies can produce items more quickly and cheaply than those made by hand, so goods become more prevalent and affordable.
There will be a shift in trade as the market grows ever more global. However, a drawback is that the items won’t have the same attention to detail or the handmade touch humans offer to the world. Products with higher quality may become more sought-after over time.
Wireless connectivity and cloud storage allow company leadership to access information from anywhere in the world. However, they also make a company vulnerable to data breaches.
Your Business and 4.0
The march forward with technology is disrupting age-old business models. The changes will have both an economic and social impact on the world.
It would be best if you prepared your business now for the coming shift. Otherwise you risk falling behind your competitors or new brands in your niche who hit the ground running with 4.0 already in place.
Businesses that manufacture products must look at the processes in their plants and how they can use technology to reduce errors and speed up production. All companies must examine how they can use IoT for better connectivity and communication within their organization.
Industry 4.0 is here, whether you love it or hate it. Now is the time to embrace the changes and move your operations into the 21st century before your competitors pull ahead.