First came steam and the first machines that mechanized some of the work our ancestors did. Next was electricity, the assembly line and the birth of mass production. The third era of industry came about with the advent of computers and the beginnings of automation, when robots and machines began to replace human workers on those assembly lines.
And now we enter Industry 4.0, in which computers and automation will come together in an entirely new way, with robotics connected remotely to computer systems equipped with machine learning algorithms that can learn and control the robotics with very little input from human operators.
Industry 4.0 introduces what has been called the “smart factory,” in which cyber-physical systems monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decentralized decisions. The physical systems become Internet of Things, communicating and cooperating both with each other and with humans in real time via the wireless web.
For a factory or system to be considered Industry 4.0, it must include:
- Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
- Information transparency — the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order to contextualize information.
- Technical assistance — both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems andthe ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
- Decentralized decision-making — the ability of cyber-physical systems to make simple decisions on their own and become as autonomous as possible.