What the Heck is the Fourth Industrial Revolution? 8

On Friday i visited the Black Country Living Museum in the heart of the Midlands in England. The BCLM is a great day out, and highlights how the Black Country contributed to the Industrial Revolution which started in the United Kingdom and quite literally transformed the social, economic and cultural conditions around the world. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and now we are on the verge of a Fourth Industrial Revolution – which will arguably again completely transform and disrupt the ‘traditional’ way of doing things. The intention of this post is to share with you what i learnt about the Four Industrial Revolution’s…

1. First Industrial Revolution

The dates of exactly when the First Industrial Revolution took place vary, some say that it started in 1784, while others state a broader period from 1760 through to 1850. What is undeniable is that the period was one of unprecedented change, particularly in:

  • Agriculture techniques
  • Manufacturing of textiles
  • Coal mining and iron production
  • Improvements in transportation (particularly railroads) and communications

2. Second Industrial Revolution – The Technological Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution timeline is generally considered to be 1870 – 1914. During this Second Industrial Revolution the world saw an evolution of products and some inventions that continue to be part of our daily lives today:

  • Iron was being replaced by steel
  • The internal combustion engine was perfected leading to the advent of cars and planes…
  • 1876 saw the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1879 came the light bulb by way of Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan
  • The first public electric supply happened in 1881, leading to wider public usage in the early 1900s
  • 1886 – Karl Benz patents and invents the modern automobile
  • 1888 – Gottlieb Daimler invents a lightweight car engine
  • 1896 – Henry Ford builds his first car, which eventually led to Ford refining and improving the idea of an assembly line
  • 1901 – Guglielmo Marconi transmits the first radio waves across the Atlantic Ocean
  • 1903 – Wilbur and Orville Wright invent the first successful airplane

It is important to note that some of the above inventions were available prior to the indicated date. But what fundamentally changed the landscape was the availability of these inventions in a cost effective and universal manner.

3. Third Industrial Revolution – The Digital Revolution

Some authorities such as Jeremy Rifkin don’t talk about a Fourth Industrial Revolution, but instead suggest that we are on the cusp of a Third Industrial Revolution right now. Jeremy presents some really interesting ideas, particularly relevant to energy usage, and well worth a read. Some of these themes are captured in the Fourth Industrial Revolution section, below…

But i wanted to present the period from the late 1960s to the beginning of this century. During this period there was rapid technological development. Some of the highlights include:

  • Mid 1960’s – the transistor was invented allowing computers to store, process and retrieve data in a faster manner
  • 1969 – ARPAENT was invented, resulting in the development of inter-network protocols forming the early origins of the internet
  • 1971 – the first microprocessor is sold, developed by Ted Hoff from Intel
  • 1971 – the first email is sent
  • 1973 – Motorola build worlds first mobile phone
  • 1975 – First digital camera is invented by a Kodak engineer
  • 1975 – Bill Gates Paul Allen create Micro-Soft & Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniac found Apple Computers
  • 1989 – Tim Berners Lee invents the World Wide Web
  • There is a general emphasis on automation and the conversion to digital….
  • 1998 – Google is founded
  • 2001 – Wikipedia the idea of a collaboration community knowledge base is launched
  • 2001 – Migration to mobile is revolutionised with the advent of the ipod
  • 2004 – Facebook is founded – dramatically changing the face of social networks

I recognise that i have missed lots of important milestones from the above list, but it gives a general idea of some of the key transformative ideas that have emerged during this period.

4. Fourth Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0

Which leads us to the present, the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The term Fourth Industrial Revolution is a particularly European term and is widely attributed to German manufacturing. Some refer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution as “Industry 4.0” and it is an initiative that aims to increase German manufacturing competitiveness by increasing integration of cyber-physical systems (CPS) into factory processes.

What these guys are essentially talking about is the Internet of Things but for the manufacturing (factory) side of things. The idea being that they can create machines that are connected to the internet that can produce more, with fewer errors and with customisation enabled that will meet your specific requirements.. The MotherBorard article gives the example of a phone that is about to die, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution the phone will notify the factory of its demise and the factory which will automatically produce a new phone with your specific settings and be sent to you.

Following are a few different articles on the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

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  • Newsweek talks about the Rise of Robot Factories 
  • The Economist The Third Industrial Revolution talks about 3D printing, and some of the challenges posed by the digitisation of manufacturing
  • The TechCrunch article refers to the Third Industrial Revolution as a way of leveling the playing field which will disrupt the landscape for incumbents
  • Wired refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a way of making factories less stupid
  • The Engineer talks about “increasing the levels of intelligence in devices that are used in industrial environments like factories”
  • I get it, we’re talking about the Internet of Things for manufacturing!
  • What are Deloitte saying about Industry 4.0…. Check out their 32 page report

In short, most of the above refer to the opportunities offered by the Internet of Things for the manufacturing industry. In fact, the rise of the machines is no longer science fiction – it is a reality right now!