Fourth industrial revolution around the corner

The ‘fourth industrial revolution’, or Industry 4.0, will see manufacturers capitalise on the benefits of Big Data and connected assets, and UK businesses are being urged to plan for the transition.

Posted on 19 July 2016

The ‘fourth industrial revolution’, or Industry 4.0, will see manufacturers capitalise on the benefits of Big Data and connected assets, and UK businesses are being urged to plan for the transition.

Industry 4.0, a name coined in 2011, concerns the future of manufacturing as ‘smart factories’ that use huge amounts of complex data, advanced analytics and autonomous cyber communication between machinery or products through the ‘Internet of Things’ to unlock a vast array of new business opportunities and efficiencies.

Industry 4.0 takes its name from the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, which follows in the footsteps of the steam and water power revolution, the electric power revolution and the digital and automation revolution. 

The possible benefits of Industry 4.0 are vast and include:

  • The development of new business models based on ‘servitisation’, whereby customers pay for the usage rather than the ownership of a product. 
  • Smarter manufacturing through automation and robotics to increase resource efficiency and productivity or enable mass customisation of products
  • Connected products that provide remote data on their use and enable reverse logistics and remote calls for maintenance
  • Connected supply chains that can more effectively coordinate supply and logistics
  • The ability to respond in real-time to customer needs

Green economy

The concept has far-reaching implications for green business. 

Recent research from resource efficiency think tank, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, suggests that increased connectivity between ‘intelligent assets’ will push innovative companies further towards circular business models.

By utilising data on the location, condition and availability of assets, connected devices can help businesses to create closed loop processes that pull used materials and products back into the value chain, enable predictive maintenance or improve product design.

There are expected to be around 28 billion connected devices around the world by 2021, more than half of which will be machine-to-machine connections.  

For example, Hewlett Packaged (HP) has launched an Instant Ink service for individuals and small businesses whereby subscribers pay a monthly fee based on the number of pages they print, and the connected printer notifies HP when the cartridge is running dry. Empty cartridges are collected as new ones are delivered.

Other potential innovations include connected buildings and building components that provide data for predictive maintenance, better utilisation of space or a market for secondary materials.

Remaining competitive

UK manufacturers are being urged to plan for these developments in order to keep up with competition overseas. For example, 80 per cent of German manufacturers plan for their value chain to be substantially ‘digitised’ by 2020.

However, a survey of UK manufacturers of various sizes by The Manufacturer magazine found that over a third of respondents were not aware of Industry 4.0.

Those that are aware are prioritising smart manufacturing as a key priority for the future, emphasising the potential benefits for production. 

According to The Manufacturer, SMEs can keep up by taking small steps to map processes and find small areas that could be significantly improved by automation and data interchange.


The Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub is running a Science in Manufacturing workshop at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) exhibition at Manchester Central on 25 July 2016 which will include a talk on Industry 4.0 from Siemens. For more information, click here.

Posted under Aerospace, Automotive, Creative and Digital Industries, Environmental Technologies, Food and Drink, Textiles and Other Manufacturing on 19 July 2016