The Fourth Wave of the Industrial Revolution

Rapid development in technology and dynamic market forces have altered the business landscape and the existing business models. ICT usage and deployment has opened the doors for companies to compete in any marketplace. Even companies, which have been benefiting from protectionist policies by governments, are now exposed to the perils of increased competition due to liberalisation, privatisation, pricing pressures and globalisation. This challenging and dynamic business environment is popularly referred to as VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). Information superhighway has further muddled the competitive waters by providing round-the-clock access and dissemination of information.

The largest transportation company in the world is Uber, but interestingly Uber does not own any car. The largest media company in the world is Facebook, but interestingly Facebook does not create any content. The largest retailer in the world is Alibaba, but interestingly, Alibaba does not own any store or retail establishment. This illustrates the power of ICT and www.

Industry 4.0 is the buzzword, popularly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. The first three waves of the industrial revolution were led by the steam engine, assembly line and mass production, and automation facilitated through computers, respectively. Industry 4.0 is the latest disruptive trend of automation led by cyber-physical system (CPS) which includes cutting-edge ICT tools and technologies such as autonomous robotics, business analytics, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), simulation, cloud computing, cyber security etc. Industry 4.0 has realised the manufacturer’s dream of a “smart factory”. Within these modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralised decisions. Interestingly, these systems are fuelled not by gasoline or oil or electricity but by ‘data’ and the capabilities to leverage and mine this data using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Over the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e., connectivity of physical assets, the CPSs communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real-time and both internal and cross-organisational services are offered and utilised by participants of the value chain. To put it simply, processes and devices become inseparable in Industry 4.0. The German Government as also leading industrial powerhouses like Robert Bosch and Siemens unveiled the basic.

The German manufacturing powerhouse Siemens is implementing an Industry 4.0 solution in medical engineering. For years, artificial knee and hip joints were standardised products, with engineers needing several days to customise them for patients. Now, new software and steering solutions enable Siemens to produce an implant within 3 to 4 hours.

Some of the Industry 4.0 building blocks are Autonomous Robotics: these robots are designed to collaborate with humans in real-time containing embedded electronic software, integrated sensors, actuators and standardised interfaces that enable them to wirelessly connect with the internet and interact in real-time with other equipment as well as humans.     Business Analytics aims at building fresh perspectives and new insights into business performance using data, statistical methods, quantitative analysis and predictive modelling. At a lower level, there is business intelligence that is standard measures for comparing past performance for future improvement based on enterprise data and statistical analysis.

IIoT: It establishes inter-connections across all industrial devices, equipment and humans using Internet technologies. IIoT enables networking, collaboration and communication between all internal and external stakeholders in the manufacturing environment, which includes factory machinery, production shop floor, assembly line and their operators such as workers, shop floor supervisors and managers as well as the suppliers and customers.

Cloud computing and associated technologies like virtualisation; Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are touted as the next ‘big’ thing and game changer for enterprises. Cloud reduces the total cost of ownership for enterprises. Cloud computing is a form of utility computing, where hardware, software, storage and platform are made available as per need and on a subscription basis. In this service model, clients can access the cloud-based application through an Internet browser. The data can be resident at a remote place also. Complementing the cloud is the usage of server farms and data centres where all applications and data can be stored, shared and accessed on demand using virtualisation. Cloud is a ‘green’ technology as it eliminates the need for enterprises to procure and maintain large servers and associated space and infrastructure.  In Cyber Security, Data being the new ‘Oil’ means that its security becomes paramount. Ensuring secure operations within connected networks and open systems is a challenging requirement of connected enterprises and their supply chain processes. Industrial systems and manufacturing processes have to be protected from cyber security threats.

3D Printing is a form of additive manufacturing which can be used for rapid prototyping and produce individual components. The focus is to produce customized modules which are easy to use and minimise transportation and inventory.

Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) are the technologies which provide interactive representation of the real-world environment. This is enlarged and improved by computer-generated interpretation of required information to aid decision-making. AR is now possible across sensory perceptions, including auditory, visual, touch, smell, heat/cold and pressure.

SMAC, complementary to Industry 4.0, is the integration of disruptive and game-changing technologies in the form of the SMAC − Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud stack, which promises to be the next wave in enterprise computing. Mobile technologies and cloud computing can easily integrate diverse hardware and storage devices. Social media can facilitate instant dialogue collaboration. SMAC technologies can be easily accessed by all with the recent trend of enterprises encouraging their employees to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

Peer Javeed Iqbal is working in IGNOU Regional Centre Srinagar as Consultant, having expertise in Cyber Law & Information Security and teaches computer science students.