Welcome To The Revolution: Industry Just Got Smart
We’re on the crest of a technology-based revolution unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
As is the way with revolutions, it’s bringing upheaval that will impact negatively on those who aren’t prepared for it. But at the same time, it will deliver significant benefits to those who adapt.
It’s a phenomenon that’s been labelled the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, and it’s been described as precipitating fundamental and unparalleled changes to the way humankind lives, works and interacts with each other.
The good news for New Zealand industry is that this looming paradigm shift is bringing with it positive opportunities to boost our competitiveness on the global stage.
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For New Zealand manufacturers, this new technology-driven way of doing things plays to our strengths as innovators, while at the same time eliminating some of the global barriers to markets that have held us back in the past.
In the information age, New Zealand no longer needs to be a victim of the “tyranny of distance” that comes with being a small exporter located in the South Pacific. The looming impact of Industry 4.0 on this country’s economy is clear when you consider the prediction that within a few years our export receipts from home-grown high-tech ventures will surpass those of the dairy sector.
How did we get here?
What’s driving this disruptive shift in manufacturing processes, an industrial shift significant enough to have been labelled the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
To understand how we’ve arrived at Industry 4.0 requires a brief history lesson on the previous three revolutions, all of which also brought about paradigm-shifting change for both industry and society in general. The first industrial revolution, in the late 18th Century, was triggered by our ability to capture and harness water and steam to power machines.
Then, starting in the 19th century, the second revolution was brought about through the arrival of electricity, which enabled – among other things – the development of assembly lines and mass production. The third revolution occurred in the 20th Century, when automation and computers meant that machines, and then robots, began replacing human workers on production lines.
This century has seen the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution through the merging of the power of IT and automation to create “smart factories” where technology dominates. But this synergy between cyber and physical production systems is more than just a new iteration of what’s gone before.
It has the potential to be even more transformative than the previous three industrial revolutions because it has the ability to fundamentally change, at a global level, the way we live, work, communicate and relate to each other at a scale and level of complexity unlike anything we have experienced before.
The technology behind the revolution
The power of Industry 4.0 is in the ability to utilise and combine multiple technologies to magnify their impact on the wider manufacturing and distribution process. By employing concepts including cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, the internet of things, and semi- and autonomous industrial techniques, businesses have been able to fundamentally change the way products are designed, manufactured, sold, delivered and serviced.
This arsenal of technologies offers up particularly exciting opportunities for manufacturers in New Zealand. We already have a compelling tech innovation story with numerous world-leading manufacturing successes under our belt. However, Industry 4.0 makes us even more competitive in global markets by levelling the playing field in an era where physical distance from remote customers is less of a barrier than it’s ever been and local customers are easier to attract.
At Storicom, we regularly explore the emerging technologies that are part of Industry 4.0 in our blog. Let’s look at how each of the associated technologies is playing a part in this revolution, and the potential they offer New Zealand manufacturers.