Bullets and Roses: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

By : |May 12, 2016 0
Could it be the Third Rail? Or the Eighth Wonder? And either ways, are our factories ready?

Pratima H

INDIA: When Klaus Schwab, Founder, Exec Chairman, World Economic Forum (WEF) introduced the concept he made used words like digital, disruptive and fusion to describe it.

“….the Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The first thing that sets this revolution apart from others is how disruptive it is. In the past we had revolutions – perhaps they would be better described as evolutions – that came at a relatively slow pace, like long waves in the ocean…. Today technological change happens like a tsunami. You see small signs at the shore, and suddenly the wave sweeps in.”


The wave part is hard to argue with for sure. Something that was not so much there when water and steam power brought mechanization of production in the first industrial revolution around 1784. Was not even there around 1874 when electric power ushered in division of labor and mass production, thanks to the second revolution.

A small tide was palpable though in the case of the third one when information technology started spreading its sails around factories. But the effects, no matter how pronounced or breakthrough, never appeared in a short span of time. It took years, may be decades, for these revolutions to deliver final impacts.

Now, that’s something that clearly sets the fourth revolution apart.

As WEF has underscored already, its scale, scope, and complexity is so huge that the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

You may not have felt it arriving under the name-tag of ‘fourth industrial revolution’ yet, but if you have heard and got your heads around self-driving cars, acronyms like AI, VR, IIoT or words like Robotics, 3D Printing, algorithms, digital fabrication et al; you have been pretty much introduced to the stranger properly.

Now should you say ‘Nice to meet you’ or exhale a grunt? Well, there are reasons for each choice, at least as of now.

Good for Factories, Great for People

Many upsides of this imminent revolution have been put forth by industry watchers. Some experts pour paeans about how it can raise global income levels or the quality of life for populations around the world by sorting out kinks in value chains that earlier revolutions could not address.

The revolution, as WEF has argued, can bring in agile, innovative disruptors who can now access global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, and accelerate quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered. Same effects trickle down for transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior influencing companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.

Dr. Ravi Kumar G.V.V. AVP and Head of Advanced Engineering Practice, Infosys, who incidentally packs 20 years of research and industrial experience in the aircraft industry, looks at the revolution this way.

“Enabled with cyber-physical systems where electronics, intelligent sensors, computation and networking is embedded into physical systems and processes, Industry 4.0 is collectively transforming the design, manufacture, operation and service of products and production systems. Machines can now operate in tandem with each other and in real-time. Factory processes become visible and controllable in a virtual space. With real-time decision-making, products can communicate to machines on how to process. Overall this smart technology will bring me efficiency and enhance communication, less expensive and more conceptualized software for tailored and factory-fit solutions.

The revolution also capsizes the way in which products are manufactured, designed or consumed. Physical products getting embedded with digital capabilities and service components? Sounds strange? Not to everyone. Not for long.

Ask Dr. Kumar and he tags it as a positive trend to look out for. “We all are moving towards a world where everything that we can imagine is literally getting ‘connected’. The convergence of digital and physical world has been spurred by Industrial IoT and advanced manufacturing, bringing in exponential transformation across industries, mainly manufacturing. Combination of expertise in digital technology and industrial machines will help transform a company from a traditional industrial equipment manufacturer into an end-to-end customer solutions provider, able to maximize customer value and profitability.”

Everything that we can imagine is literally getting connected: Kumar, InfosysImage courtesy of Rawich at freedigitalphotos

Everything that we can imagine is literally getting connected: Kumar, Infosys

Quantification may also bring in a new level of augmentation. Something not limited to big-scale players or OEMs too.
Industry 4.0 is a revolution which needs to be embraced by the entire ecosystem of manufacturing process, be it the large OEMs, small scale material providers, suppliers, system integrator, Dr. Kumar opines. “From large scale industries to smaller players, Industry 4.0 principles are vital for all industrial enterprises across the globe. Manufacturing enterprises and large OEMs will definitely be the early adopters, transitioning smooth into the digital age of the connected factory – and with this transformation will come virtual products, on-demand production and real-time mobile analytics. The factory of tomorrow needs to be proactive and intelligent, hence the entire manufacturing ecosystem – from suppliers to vendors to OEMs to integrators – need to responsive to Industry 4.0.”

It is actually not too easy to sum up when one thinks of what can Industry 4.0, or this new age of advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, quantum engineering, 3D printing and robotics, can actually do.

Industry 4.0 will make it possible to gather and analyze data across systems, enabling faster and more flexible and efficient processes – better decision making with valuable insights; produce higher quality co-innovative products at lesser costs; increase manufacturing productivity, economic shifts, faster industrial growth and increased sustainable competitive advantage, among many other things.

As to how much should India be reading into it, specially with the Make-in-India motivation, Dr. Kumar asserts that India with its strong IT, Industrial automation and manufacturing skills, its adoption of Industry 4.0 will definitely be faster.

“Indian enterprises are capable of delivering large scale orders and invest in R&D. Industry 4.0 is going to be the future of manufacturing and the future of India is in becoming the “digital factory of the world”. India with a highly skilled and talented workforce surely has advantage on key strengths like engineering skill and technical know-how.”

He illustrates how companies like Havells, Godrej, Bosch and other large manufacturers have already shifted their manufacturing units to India. With almost close to 60 million people employed in the Indian manufacturing industry, representing about 12 per cent of the country’s overall working population, the Indian manufacturing landscape however, needs to undergo a massive revamp in order to remain competitive in terms of investment, infrastructure, and technology.

So, one way to explain the fourth revolution is this: Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.

Another way, as economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee put it, the revolution will spur greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. Why? Because this revolution is more exponential than linear? Because automation can be a quick substitute for labor and the net displacement of workers by machines could worsen the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor.

Is there anything amiss when we raise those pom-poms for this revolution? Some flies in the ointment are already being spotted. Take your pick.

Great for people? Who exactly?

If the revolution gushes in smart machines in factories, as well as new uberisations for god-knows-what-industry-next, would it mean it will sweep out accountants, delivery drivers, factory assembly-line workers and clerks too?

Like the Swiss bank UBS in a report launched in Davos pointed out in time, there will be a “polarisation of the labour force as low-skill jobs continue to be automated and this trend increasingly spreads to middle class jobs.”

Dr. Kumar reasons that Industry 4.0 has potential to disrupt labor market across the globe. “With automation substituting human labor, the shift from workers to machines will widen the gap between capitals and labor. However, for advanced technologies, like cognitive analytics, AI, M2M, Industrial IoT would also require skilled professionals. The demand for highly skilled workers would go up.”

The growing use of software, connectivity, and analytics will increase the demand for employees with skilled competencies – in turn increase employment opportunities

As he sees it, many manufacturing companies are yet to embrace Industry 4.0 principles and are still using legacy enterprise software systems. The next five years will be vital to the adoption of Industry 4.0 for many global industries because of many reasons.

“Fundamental shortage of skilled talent in key areas, especially core engineering and advanced data and automation technologies, although there will be others over time; being nimble and flexible in how these skills are resourced will be critical. Information management needs to be improved for achieving maintenance and operational efficiency. There is a need to adopt innovation more aggressively: by bold use of technology and building new partnerships with companies, large and small, research organizations and academic institutions.

Then there is the recurring nightmare of security and safety on many dimensions.

Surendra Singh, Country Director, Forcepoint avers that the IoT (Internet of Things) would also mean a wider attack surface and more vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit, exposing sensitive data to potential theft. Industries such healthcare and manufacturing that utilize a large number of connected devices and networked systems in the course of their everyday business are likely to face wider range of security vulnerabilities and threats.”

Some industries because of wider range of connected devices, and networked systems will face more security vulnerabilities and threats: Singh, Forcepoint Image courtesy of stockdevil at freedigitalphotos

Some industries because of wider range of connected devices, and networked systems will face more security vulnerabilities and threats: Singh, Forcepoint

He cites an example. Digital and connected diagnostic and screening systems in the healthcare field are expected to reach more than 40 per cent global penetration by 2020. While these connected medical devices are invaluable to medical facilities, staff and patients in advancing overall progress and care, they also contain the potential to adversely affect information systems protecting patient safety and data, he reminds.

Dr. Kumar seconds that given the state of the present IoT boom, security, privacy and reliability concerns are the main barriers which needs to be addressed. Cost of implementation and business value realized will play vital role in future of IoT.

Though Industry 4.0 is the greatest talked about industrial revolution in recent times, we are yet to see companies embracing it fully. It is still considered to be in its nascent stage.

He advises that industry-wide data standards need to be agreed and implemented; data security must be a constant focus. “Implementation needs to be faster than most companies are prepared for. Hence, a robust ecosystem and open partnering behaviour will be necessary.”

Good for the Really-ready

The IoT augurs well for the overall business ecosystem. It is expected to increase business productivity, higher industrial growth and overall improvement in business excellence, Singh maintains.

What is vital though is that organisations need to think for a strategy that will help them to confidently navigate the various risks new technologies like IoT, Mobile and Cloud would pose.

“What is needed is a unified platform that can help defend, detect, decide and defeat these advanced threats – both insider and external – to safeguard their data, users and networks.” Singh recommends.

The sheer scope, scale, complexity and disruption capacity of this revolution can be overwhelming, more so when you look at its extremely fast pace and integration of many ecosystems (users, businesses, regulators, social). This is not what the earlier ‘rather-slow-evolving and isolated’ revolutions taught us.

Hence, the response to Industry 4.0, if we heed to Dr. Kumar, must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all key stakeholders. The scope, scale, complexity and disruption associated with this revolution are definitely going to be on an exponentially large scale.

“Industry 4.0 revolution is different from other previous industry revolution. The evolution is accelerating at an exponential rate disrupting most of the industries. With millions of people across connected by mobile devices, access to knowledge is limitless. Along with smart world, newer next-gen technologies like artificial intelligence robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing are paving their way to improve mankind. Thus, Industry 4.0 has the potential to improve global income levels and improve quality of life for people around the world.”

Either ways, it’s better to be ready when a storm is stirring just across the shore.

Revolutions don’t even take 360 days anymore. Specially, the fourth ones.

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