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Ushering in the fourth Industrial Revolution

A line of innovation from water to the cloud

Director, Internet of Things Cloud, IBM

Close your eyes for a minute, and clear your head. Transport yourself back to the manufacturing lines of the mid-1800s in England perhaps, or what is now Germany. You’ve just mastered the use of waterpower to assist in the mechanization of your production process. Different world, right? Then along comes the advent of steam systems—innovation is possible. Are you going to be an early adopter or a laggard?

Some 60 years later, the scene repeats. This time electricity and mass production, and the massive innovation that ensues, lead to the emergence of new leaders—existing leaders either adopt the technology or fade away. And then some 60 or 70 years later the scene repeats again with the advent of IT that enables new levels of automation.

Now, the table is set for yet another cycle—the fourth revolution. I’ve written previously about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, looking at lessons learned from the California gold rush and looking somewhat optimistically at Orbit City for what we can learn from my favorite classic cartoon. The Internet of Things is enabling the possibilities of Industry 4.0 in several ways:

  • Modular factory systems and designs that enable machines—cyber-physical systems—to converse with each other and create new levels of process optimization and, more importantly, process configuration
  • Small and smaller lot sizes from process configuration that enable more fine-tuned offering management that aligns to changing, and more demanding, client requirements and the ability to differentiate cost, capabilities, experience, risk tolerance and so on
  • New markets created through product, service and supply chain innovation

Industry 4.0 is based on six core tenets:

  • Interoperability of machines and people
  • The ability to create a virtual copy of a system with plant and simulation models coupled with data feeds and streams
  • Edge (decentralized) computing for certain forms of intelligent machines
  • The capability to collect and analyze many forms of data at the speed of business
  • A service orientation across IT and operational technology (OT)
  • Modularity in design of machines for agility in the manufacturing process

Increasing instrumentation, interconnectedness and intelligence are fundamental to the Internet of Things and thus enabling Industry 4.0. The role of the Internet of Things in enabling Industry 4.0 is expansive and can be outlined with three key domains:

  • Product innovation: Designing and building advanced, connected and data-rich products and machines that enable the plant floor innovation
  • Operations: Embedding intelligence into and across operations and automating the process in the progression from data to analytics-driven insights to action and execution
  • Engagement: Using mobile and social capabilities to engage with employees, clients and supply chain ecosystems in new ways

For Industry 4.0 to become a reality, the Internet of Things will have to deliver on its promises. There is no one company or platform that can do it all. IBM is doing its part with services and solutions, engaging across the ecosystem and continuing to enable increasing flexibility, choice and standards in how it designs and delivers solutions and integrates our ecosystem partners.

I hope you can sense my enthusiasm for this topic. As a kid who grew up around power plants and had the pleasure of crawling around steam boilers, nuclear plant cable spreading rooms and the engine rooms on ships, this new revolution is awfully exciting. As an industry, we can quite literally change the world.

Learn more about how analytics is enabling the new world of manufacturing.

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