The Origins of Industry 4.0

When Germany launched a project under the name ‘Industrie 4.0’ to digitalize manufacturing at the Hannover Messe in 2011, the government officials, industry leaders and academics who were working on the project probably had no idea that Industry 4.0 and specifically that fourth industrial revolution would become such a widely used concept.

Moving beyond its roots, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet are meeting in a global collaboration towards the digital transformation of manufacturing and other industries.

The question whether we’re at the brink of a fourth industrial revolution has been answered: we are. The questions that remain: how to create value, get prepared and address the many challenges in what could end up to be an evolution instead of a revolution in the current global context?

Following three decades of decline in the manufacturing sector of Western and other economies, governments and private companies are adopting technologies of the fourth industrial revolution to resuscitate manufacturing and create R&D and management jobs in their home countries.

Though the notion of this fourth industrial revolution isn’t new and has been a core topic in many countries and territories across the globe, the inherent acceleration of Industry 4.0 as the fourth industrial revolution is often called, is moving beyond the sheer technological, human and societal dimension.

Since the second half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 there is another acceleration that can’t be overlooked concerning the fourth industrial revolution: countries and territories are stepping up their efforts in the global race which Industry 4.0 also is.

Let there be no mistake about this: even if the theme of the World Economic Forum 2018 was the creation of a shared future in a fractured world with getting ready, being prepared and skilling up for the fourth industrial revolution in this shared future view taking center stage, the notion of a fractured world is at least as important and the fourth industrial revolution is more than a race, it’s a fierce global fight for a piece of the pie.

The fourth industrial revolution race is also about 1) high labor cost countries automating to fiercely compete with low labor cost countries and 2) high labor cost countries competing to be ahead of each other

What is clear is that the research solely focuses on manufacturing and that, on top of the classic technology drivers (Industrial IoT, Big Data analytics, advanced industrial robots, artificial intelligence and – the demand for – predictive maintenance) a major growth is expected in the manufacturing industry whereby the press releases mentions the focus of the US government on manufacturing, the EU’s well-known fourth industrial revolution frameworks and policies, fierce global competition in the manufacturing sector, the opportunities to enhance production processes, automation in high labor cost countries to compete with low labor cost countries and to not get behind with regards to those countries and territories investing in Industry 4.0 technology (it is a global race of hard competition and geopolitical shifts boosting that global race indeed), government initiatives, the list goes on and mentions the essential benefits of Industry 4.0.

A quote from the press release that couldn’t be clearer about the stakes of the global fourth industrial revolution race and how it already affects and will continue to affect geopolitics in the eyes of US Homeland Security Research: “the 4th Industrial revolution is set to swiftly alter the competitiveness of nearly all industrial sectors across the world, as well as change long-held dynamics in commerce and global economic balance of power”. Global economic power indeed.

Ample themes which seemed more obvious to tackle from a ‘shared future’ perspective a few years ago such as employment, climate change, the workforce, the state of distrust and the need for collaboration in a world of globalization, today clearly have a different context.

Moreover, despite being a global phenomenon the fourth industrial revolution in reality obviously always was a race between countries and territories across the world to change the face and future of production, manufacturing and so forth. The stakes are high, the race for Industry 4.0 leadership has accelerated and the differences in views and approaches and political agendas are clearer than ever.

Since information on  digital transformation and the various aspects of Industry 4.0 spread,  there have never been so many announcements from virtually all countries and territories seeking a leading stake of the big Industry 4.0 pie about their fourth industrial revolution readiness, need to boost efforts and Industry 4.0 strategies as now.

It is not all politics. Differences are easier to overcome and a shared future easier to achieve when looking at the challenges at hand and the realities in countries with different strengths, weaknesses, priorities and fourth industrial revolution capabilities and readiness degrees.

Moreover, the key Industry 4.0 consortia are striving towards closer collaboration and effectively reach these goals, in relation with, but at the same time away from political agendas.

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