Understanding and Surviving the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with ten years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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The fourth industrial revolution - Industry 4.0 or 4IR as it’s more commonly known here in the UK - is happening, and from the buzz created around the industry, it’s happening pretty fast! But what does it all mean? To really understand just what the fourth industrial revolution is, we first need to go back in time and understand its predecessors.

The first industrial revolution in 1784, came to light on the back of a wave of innovation – the invention of the steam engine and the cotton mill. This represented a history-altering wave of systemic change such as urbanisation, mass education and the industrialisation of agriculture.

The second industrial revolution followed in 1870, bringing with it electrification and mass production, which resulted in entirely new social models and new ways of working. The third and most recent was in 1996 - the digital revolution, which laid the electronic and computing foundations we have seen shape the world over the past five decades.

So that leads us onto 2017 and the fourth industrial revolution. Reports from multiple sources suggest that in five year’s time, many sectors expect over 70% of their operations to be digitalised, paving the way for factory automation, predictive maintenance and artificial intelligence.

As with all revolutions, there are of course vital challenges to be faced along the way, such as reducing disruption, limiting cost, and perhaps the most important of all, dealing with the security threats posed by a fully automated workshop. So, with these factors in mind we ask, why should manufacturers invest in the 4IR? We think the answer is simple - if they don’t, then others simply will, giving 4IR-equipped companies the ability to produce more at lower costs, in half the time. This is a daunting prospect for smaller businesses and something that Qimtek has already seen to happen pre-revolution.

In 2016, Qimtek surveyed 10 of their members at random to further understand their sales process, in-house capabilities and software systems. The results were clear at the time, but as we delve into understanding the impending changes in our industry, they are perhaps more pertinent then ever.

Exactly half the companies surveyed said that they have either Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Material Requirements Planning (MRP) software in place and would not be without it. They reported that these systems calculate the job from initial enquiry right the way through to delivery; subsequently, all confirmed that it saves them time and money by enabling them to provide highly competitive quotes.

The remaining five companies were divided. Some had ERP in place - although only for their accountancy division - and the rest didn’t have any at all, confirming that this is something that has not yet consumed the industry in its entirety.

There’s no arguing that change is afoot and based upon this research, along with our heightened knowledge surrounding the forthcoming industrial revolution, 1 in 2 UK manufacturing companies are at a high risk of being left behind. It is crucial to the survival of many UK firms that they have a clear understanding of what the future holds for the industry itself, whilst investigating ways in which to implement solutions that accommodate the demands of 4IR.