In the modern manufacturing world, the term “Industry 4.0” is commonly used, but what does the term refer to? The way manufacturers produce and distribute goods has drastically changed over the past few decades. Industry 4.0 refers to the 

digital transformation of manufacturing through automation and the use of tools like artificial intelligence and computer learning to drive decision-making and ultimately optimize how manufacturers produce and distribute goods. Factories are getting “smarter,” and less human intervention is needed throughout the production process than ever. To understand where manufacturing technology is today, it’s important to understand where it started.

Previous Industrial Revolutions

Industry 4.0 isn’t the first industrial revolution in our history. In fact, the First Industrial Revolution dates back to the 18th century, when the increased use of steam power and mechanization of production changed the manufacturing world forever. This signaled the start of reliance on machines throughout the production process. Mechanized production meant that machines could produce far more products in a given time versus completing the production process by hand. While steam power wasn’t an entirely new concept, the First Industrial Revolution led to its widespread use in manufacturing.

The Second Industrial Revolution took place in the late 19th century and early 20th. One of the biggest additions to the manufacturing space during that time was the introduction of the assembly line, a concept that stemmed from a Chicago slaughterhouse – specifically its butchering facility and the streamlined processes within it. With the assembly line, production became a mobile process. Rather than a given product being assembled from start to finish in one spot in a facility, assembly takes place step by step via the use of conveyor belts. Assembly lines drastically cut production times and costs during this time. Another big shift during the Second Industrial Revolution was the invention of electricity-powered machines, which gave manufacturers the ability to increase efficiency with equipment that was much easier to operate than its steam-powered predecessors.

In the late 20th century, the Third Industrial Revolution brought computers and programmable equipment controls into the manufacturing process. Computer programs meant that manufacturers could now automate many processes throughout production without the need for human triggers.

Changes in Manufacturing with Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 represents the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our time. Many experts say this new era is an extension of the Third Industrial Revolution as it further increases manufacturers’ reliance on computer technology throughout the production process. With modern technology, computers are connected via networks and able to communicate with each other in real time, making decisions using the information they share. Essentially, modern manufacturers are taking the computerization that came in the previous wave of innovation and optimizing that technology to better serve them throughout the production process.

The terms smart factory or smart manufacturing is becoming more commonplace presently, referring to the type of manufacturing environment in which data is collected, analyzed, and shared among all machines to inform critical production decisions. It’s important to remember that manufacturers don’t only collect information from production machines within a shop floor. They also rely on an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – referring to a collection of various devices, sensors, and instruments, all individually gathering data and connected in this powerhouse of information and data-driven decisions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) compiles data sets into useful information about various functions, including order fulfillment and machine performance. Machine learning takes it a step further as it combines historical data to predict machine performance and optimize a maintenance schedule.

Industry 4.0 has also brought in automation, using the gathered and analyzed data to trigger machine instructions or other key parts of the production process. This type of advanced technology makes it possible for facilities to operate with far less human involvement, saving organizations in both time and production costs.

Are you Prepared for Industry 4.0?

Within the manufacturing space, technology is constantly evolving. Without conscious efforts to stay abreast of the latest technology and best practices, manufacturers find themselves falling behind in terms of efficiency and overall sustainability. To know if your facility is prepared to thrive through this next wave of innovation which is Industry 4.0, it’s critical to determine where it is at presently.

From there, consulting with manufacturing and supply chain experts to learn about the latest in automation and other technological innovations is a great next step. It’s often difficult to see inefficiencies or opportunities to improve without an external perspective.

When it comes to helping manufacturers embrace Industry 4.0, the team at IMCO Software brings the expertise and industry experience to not only keep up with innovation but to also lead in the space. We have partnered with manufacturers across industries including food and beverage, aerospace, and metal fabrication. Between our suite of proprietary software and our partner integrations, we have the knowledge and tools to best take advantage of technology in order to optimize all efforts within a facility. IMCO founder, Ruben Mirensky, even recently presented on the topic of Industry 4.0 at the International Manufacturing Technology Show.

The team at IMCO Software is ready to help your organization harness technological innovations that drive tangible results, help you achieve operational excellence, and keep you at the front of the pack when it comes to embracing innovation. For a demo of any of our software solutions or to evaluate your preparedness for Industry 4.0, contact our team today!