As a human race, we are now entering a new industrial revolution, an era which is being propelled by the rapidly growing technologies of artificial intelligence, social media, cloud and the Internet of Things. The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to increase manufacturing productivity. Subsequently, the second revolution utilised electric power to facilitate mass production. The third revolution used electronic devices and information technology to automate manufacturing processes. The fourth industrial revolution or ‘Industry 4.0’ is an adaptation of the third – it is characterised by an integration of technologies that are actually blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological platforms.
There is one prominent reason why today’s transformation is not merely an extension of the third revolution, but rather an inception of a new one. The velocity of new-age breakthroughs have no historical pattern. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, Industry 4.0 is evolving at an escalating rather than a linear pace. Additionally, it is disrupting almost every industry across the globe. The breadth and depth of these changes have enabled an entire transformation of model systems of production, management and governance. For example, when computers were introduced in Industry 3.0, it was revolutionary thanks to the inception of a never seen before technology. However, as Industry 4.0 has unfolded, computers are interconnected and communicate with one another to ultimately take action without human involvement. As a result of the help of smart machines that keep growing technologically, our factories will become more efficient and fruitful, and less wasteful. Ultimately, the network of these machines that are digitally inter-linked with each other creates the true power of Industry 4.0.
It is a common belief that automation of business processes will lead to a reduction in jobs. This point may have some substance behind it, however, its applicability and extent are still debatable. To emphasise on this – let us take up a few examples. The worker who uses his hands to mould a specific engine part will soon perform similar tasks in a virtual or augmented situation. An employee who stacks products will now use a joystick to do so. This revolution will not largely reduce the number of jobs; it will simply mandate the need for extensive employee learning and training. The iconic feature of this revolution is that current job skill-sets just require a few upgrades rather than a complete overhaul. To summarise – Industry 4.0’s aim is to not destroy previous eras. It is simply upgrading previous functions, infrastructure and skills to take full advantage of the advanced level of automation and technology.
While smart manufacturing and production of goods are decreasing the number of labour-intensive opportunities, it is propelling the presence of more skilled, intelligent and evolved jobs. Unlike the popular perception of manufacturing as labour-intensive, Industry 4.0 is skill-intensive and requires an array of skills even at the lowest levels of employment in an organisation.
There is an urgent need for specialists who are not only familiar with business and production lines, but are also capable of analysing large amounts of data. There are new employment opportunities for individuals who can use existing data to gain insights that are not yet available and predict future trends on the basis of historical data. This suddenly gives production managers the ability to effectively prevent problems instead of repeatedly being derailed by abrupt problems and the subsequent chaos they cause.
Similarly, the domains of IT and software development are set to see a sharp rise in job creation – with the increased need for IT solution developers, UI designers, embedded software engineers, and data scientists. The shop floor employee of the future will also be well-versed in digital automation. Going forward, it is essential to initiate, support and train this future ready “digital employee.”
FAQs (Frequently asked questions)
What exactly is the Internet of Things?
Simply put, the internet of things is the technological process of extending internet connectivity and accessibility beyond just traditional laptops and computers, to a diverse range of everyday products that utilise embedded technology. This allows these products to communicate and interact with the external environment, all via the internet.
What are the types of Artificial Intelligence?
AI can be broadly classified into 2 categories – Weak and Strong AI. Weak AI is an approach with the consideration that AI is and will always be a function of human cognitive function. Weak AI is restricted by the rules imposed on it and it cannot go beyond those rules. Strong AI relates to advanced levels of AI. It refers to the work that genuinely imitates a human – and could potentially also explain the way a human thinks.
What can data analytics be used for?
Some of the critical uses of data analytics include – identifying trends and patterns & predictive patterns, which seeks to predict consumer behaviour, equipment failure and other future events. Data analytics can be used across nearly all industries. The process is also gaining popularity on social media platforms to attain consumer insights and preferences.
What are the benefits of training employees?
An efficiently trained employee usually shows greater productivity and higher quality of output than an untrained employee. Training enhances the skills of the employees in the performance of a particular job. Ensuring that employees are up-to-date with new technological advancements and innovations is vital to remain competitive in the new business environment. Employee training helps in acquiring new skills, increasing the workforce’s contribution to business, while also building their self-esteem and making them future ready, thereby also benefiting in terms of better work prospects and/ or better pay.