What is industry 4.0 and will a robot take my job?

You might have come across ‘Industry 4.0’ as a term used conversationally at networking events and webinars when discussing the fourth industrial revolution. If you’ve come across it online or in a book, the term was probably used interchangeably with the impact of digital transformation within manufacturing and production.

Industry 4.0 as a concept within manufacturing is used to describe more automated production – typically a ‘smart’ system that is data driven, networked, and augmented by artificial intelligence. One ‘real world’ example are IoT devices that are able to accurately determine breakdowns for targeted preventative maintenance to reduce breakdowns and the cost of reactive maintenance.

Automation has been happening for over 200 years in one form or another and believe it or not the fear of machines taking over our jobs has also captured our imaginations for the same sort of time. From 1800’s a group of English textile workers called Luddites destroyed machines as a form of protest to automation within industry.

Looking at this period of time through to present day through a ‘jobs lens’, generally, technology has created more jobs than they have replaced. However, that fear of robots taking over our jobs and rendering the working population redundant continues today. Take for example MIT’s Andrew McAfee who argues that this time things will be very different. The fourth industrial revolution presents an intersection of technology, policy, and demand to create a means of production and manufacturing where machines do almost all of the work.

Not everyone agrees that this will lead to a post-apocalyptic world, MIT economist David Autor argues in his 2015 study “Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation”, that whilst Automation could replace people in the workplace, mass-automation would move the policy debate from one of scarcity to distribution.

Putting demand and policy aside for a minute, what is this new ‘tech’ that could make things different this time? Siemens argue that it isn’t any one thing within manufacturing, but rather a collection or technologies coming together:

  • Internet of Things (IoT),
  • Additive manufacturing,
  • Digitalization and integration of data and workflows
  • Remote monitoring
  • Multi-disciplinary engineering,
  • Automation of controls
  • Machine learning and predictive analytics.

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