Mention "Industry 4.0" to most manufacturing executives and you will raise eyebrows. If they've heard of it, they are likely confused about what it is. If they haven't heard of it, they're likely to be skeptical of what they see as yet another piece of marketing hype, an empty catchphrase. And yet a closer look at what's behind Industry 4.0 reveals some powerful emerging currents with strong potential to change the way factories work. It may be too much to say that it is another industrial revolution. But call it whatever you like; the fact is, Industry 4.0 is gathering force, and executives should carefully monitor the coming changes and develop strategies to take advantage of the new opportunities.
We define Industry 4.0 as the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector, driven by four disruptions: the astonishing rise in data volumes, computational power, and connectivity, especially new low-power wide-area networks; the emergence of analytics and business-intelligence capabilities; new forms of human-machine interaction, such as touch interfaces and augmented-reality systems; and improvements in transferring digital instructions to the physical world, such as advanced robotics and 3-D printing. (The four trends are not the reason for the "4.0," however. Rather, this is the fourth major upheaval in modern manufacturing, following the lean revolution of the 1970s, the outsourcing phenomenon of the 1990s, and the automation that took off in the 2000s.)
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