All through history, we’ve entered different periods of time defined by groundbreaking technological advancements. In the industrial sector, through the advent of much of the technology we use today we’ve entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.
And while this new era sounds like a dystopian future overrun by our benevolent robotic overlords, there’s an immense amount of implications for those of us in the industry. Given the speed of almost overwhelming change and innovation, it’s important to engage and understand what’s going on or we risk becoming antiquated, much like those who saw no other future beyond a horse when Henry Ford started mass producing the automobile.
So, I’m here to break down (in buzzword-free and simple terms from the perspective of someone focused on the industrial sector) what Industry 4.0 is, why it matters to you, and how it is affecting our industry.
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is the current industrial revolution spurred on by the advancements in technology. Similar to how steam power was the driver behind the first industrial revolution, or how the assembly line and electricity caused the second, the ability to connect the physical to the digital world has created new possibilities in the way we work and live.
Connecting the Physical and Digital Worlds
Let’s look at an example we’re all probably familiar with, Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa fuses together the digital and physical world, by connecting a user, the internet, your house (such as lights, locks, etc.), integrates with apps, and much more. This connection to the physical and digital world is what we want to look at. Through speaking commands or via automation Alexa can control physical home appliances such as thermostats, vacuums, and lights. By having digital access to these physical aspects of your home, you have better control over—and surface data from—your physical world.
Taking That Connection a Step Further
The connection between the digital and physical worlds can be applied to something as simple as turning off your lights when you are away from home or applied to artificial intelligence, biotechnology, 3D printing, and so so much more. But let’s get into how the power behind Industry 4.0 is changing the industrial landscape.
How Does Industry 4.0 Apply to the Industrial Market?
There are a few characteristics that come from Industry 4.0 that are critical for industrial markets:
1. Increased Connection
Every day there is an increasing number of connections between people, the physical world, machines, and other data sources. Connecting and making sense of data is a key factor in 4.0's ability to create augmented value. For the industrial markets, this means that you will have the ability to get more information from every connected source. For example, the ability to track and communicate where assets and equipment are at all times through a platform connects humans to equipment in a way that was not available before. This connection improves decision making, helps quickly solve problems and keeps your site on track.
Another example of increased connection is the ability of a machine to communicate when it needs maintenance or even better, predict and prevent maintenance before it is needed. This ability connects machines to humans to save time and money.
2. Visibility Through Data
Through increased connections, Industry 4.0’s principles open up visibility by giving us access to data quickly and conveniently. Data can completely change a company for the better. Whether the data is just easier to get or it is data that was unavailable before, it can help solidify a proper decision-making process, increase efficiency, and improve operations.
Visibility is so incredibly powerful. It can come from something as advanced as flying a drone over your site to survey project status. Or sensors in equipment that give you insights into the effectiveness of your team or how the equipment is being used. Ultimately, it gives you a new view of your operations and where there might be problems.
3. Offloading Tasks
Helping humans offload tedious, difficult, or even unsafe tasks is another characteristic of Industry 4.0 that directly impacts the industrial sector. Time-consuming processes like getting quotes for rental equipment, tracking quotes, and managing a network of vendors moves from disparate and ill-managed spreadsheets to sophisticated technology.
A huge aspect of both oil & gas and construction is to make sure every employee is as safe as possible at all times. Technology that has the capability to prevent putting one of your workers at risk is indescribably valuable. Sending in robotics to do quick fixes in a dangerous area or circumstances instead of sending a human can increase the safety of your team.
Automation lets software make decisions and perform tasks autonomously. It can help with energy management, the ability to quote the best price of rental equipment, robotic capabilities, predict equipment maintenance, make operations more efficient, and so much more.
… And So Much More
While I mentioned some characteristics of Industry 4.0 and how they apply to the industrial world, I only listed a fraction of the capabilities and applications that are currently possible for oil & gas and construction. While that may seem intimidating, it is actually incredible news. Tasks that are dangerous, tedious, and time-consuming will be handled through advancements made with Industry 4.0 capabilities. That translates into more time for you and your team to focus on what you do best, feel empowered to make the best decisions possible, and produce a quality of work that was never possible before.
Don’t Fear the Future
After you see what work could look like with the innovations of Industry 4.0, the thought of doing things the same way, quite frankly, sucks. Why would anyone want to do dishes by hand when a dishwasher is readily available? Now, apply that same logic to your abilities and tasks at work, why would you be doing the task the hard way when there is the ability to offload it onto technology?
Even if your company is successful without the help of Industry 4.0, ignoring the capabilities of technology in regards to improving safety, decision making, job effectiveness, workers' capabilities, and quality of work leaves room for your competitors to capitalize on all of those areas—and leave you in the dust.
Industry 4.0 is a revolution and is changing the way every industry does its work. Now more than ever, companies need to seek better solutions for traditional practices. Because you don’t want to be stuck wrist-deep in dishwater while your competitor loads a dishwasher.
Now that we have the cerebral stuff out of the way, we can better understand the solutions currently at our disposal and what they need to provide us so that we can make the most of them. Hitched CEO Jonathan Scheiner expands on this and more in his post The Two Keys to Powerful Industrial Technology: Convenience and Comfort. Check it out and get in on the revolution.