How Did we Get Here? The build up to Industry 4.0

Manufacturing Insights

How Did we Get Here? The build up to Industry 4.0

The evolving face of manufacturing

Production is not a new phenomenon – for as long as we humans have walked the earth, we have set our minds and energies towards creating things that make our lives better. In centuries past, we worked with our bare hands or used simple tools.  Early industry focused on creating what was needed for the survival of the individual or the small family unit. The 18th century industrial revolution kick-started a process of streamlining and mechanizing production so as to manufacture things at previously unimagined scale and speed. Mechanisation beckoned commercialization and a new era where goods are created to sell at profit, rather than merely to help us survive.

Rapid pace of change

From washing machines to laptops, cars to processed food  – our world is full of products and devices that make us more productive and efficient than ever before. Technological advances have completely transformed our lives, offering us more leisure-time and boosting demand for products that further enhance and improve our lifestyles.

While the mechanization of manufacturing was a gradual process which began over 200 years ago, it is glaringly apparent that the pace of change has exploded in recent years.  Our demand for newer and better products only grows as production-power increases putting pressure on factories to get better, faster and more efficient at meeting the expectations of today’s consumers. Manufacturers that do not keep up with the pace of change, risk falling away from the competition in a matter of mere months or years, as opposed to decades.

Consider: what are you doing to keep up with the pace of change?

A revolution in four stages

At every stage in history, technological advances improved manufacturing  processes.  Today, we stand at the dawn of Industry 4.0 and its predicted complete digitisation of factories and manufacturing. Perhaps the most radical leap in the history of manufacturing to date, Industry 4.0 will equip manufacturers with revolutionary competitive advantages set to far exceed what was achieved in the previous three industrial revolutions. Hyper-advanced technical capabilities such as smart tech, big data and cyber-physical systems will boost productivity and quality to unprecedented levels while reducing errors and decreasing waste.

Before you prepare for Industry 4.0 and evaluate whether your factory is well placed to take advantage of these sweeping changes, it can be  instructive to take a look at the bigger picture of where the industry has come from and where it is headed.

Industry 1.0 – The dawn of mechanization

From the early 18th Century, steam power began to overtake muscle-power as the principal means of operating industrial machinery such as the weaving loom. This mechanization of production enabled eight-times the volume of product to be produced in the same amount of time.

Industry 2.0 – The first production line

Beginning in the 19th century with the discovery of electricity, the second industrial revolution brought with it assembly-line production with Henry Ford drastically transforming manufacture by dividing production into smaller steps, repeated over and over. By producing automobiles in stages on a conveyor belt, rather than assembling  from start to finish in one station he made manufacturing faster and more economical. Dozens of industries followed his lead.

Industry 3.0 – Early steps in automation

From the  1970s  into  the 20th century, partial automation using memory-programmable controls and computers started to become widespread. Computers have allowed for the automation of many factory processes and have changed the role of manpower in manufacturing but Industry 3.0 was just the beginning…..

Industry 4.0 – The “smart” factory

Building on Industry 3.0,  this new stage takes automation and computers a step further towards creating smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning, with less active involvement from humans.

Consider: Poised at the brink of the biggest industrial revolution yet, we must ask what impact mechanization will have on human jobs and how we can prepare to get the most out of this technological revolution.


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