What Is Industry 4.0, Anyway?

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August 20, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: August 20 on

The four industrial revolutions: (1) Mechanization through water and steam power. (2) Mass production and assembly lines powered by electricity. (3) Computerization and automation. (4) Smart factories and cyber-physical systems.

If you’ve been to a trade show or read an op-ed on manufacturing in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen the terms ‘Industry 4.0’ and ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Depending on whom you ask, these connote a fundamental shift in the global manufacturing sector or empty buzzwords dreamt up by marketers and PR firms. Not surprisingly, the truth lies somewhere in between.

“Are they buzzwords? Yes. Are they just buzzwords? Absolutely not,” said Joel Martin, laser tracker product manager for Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.

Make no mistake: the manufacturing sector is in the midst of a sea change, though its final outcome is far from certain. Right now, there are still more questions than answers:

What is Industry 4.0?
What’s the difference between a “smart” factory and a dumb one?
Is the fourth industrial revolution only for large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), or can small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also benefit?
How will this affect the skills gap?

And, most important of all:

When does the revolution begin?

Engineering.com sat down with industry experts in an effort to answer these questions and get their unique perspectives on the next industrial revolution. But first, a little history.

Industrial    Time Period        Core Aspects


     1.0           1760 – 1840        Mechanization

     2.0           1870 – 1914        Mass Production

     3.0           1960 – 20??        Computerization

     4.0           Now?