Big data, artificial intelligence (AI), Industry 4.0—these terms are thrown around by technologists today, conjuring dystopian images of dark silos of personal data on file, endless automation, and robots running our factories.
But what is Industry 4.0? Why is it important? Will Industry 4.0 cut jobs or create them?
BusinessBecause caught up with Professor Tobias Meisen, head of the Institute of Information Management in Mechanical Engineering (IMA) at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University, who leads a host of new professional courses on Industry 4.0, to find out more.
Here’s five things you should know about Industry 4.0:
1. What is Industry 4.0?
A 2011 German government initiative, Industry 4.0 marks a new wave of automation developments in manufacturing, brought about by cutting-edge technologies like big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Germany is a world leader in Industry 4.0. Its factories boast 309 robots per 10,000 employees, according to the latest World Robotics Report. The global average for 2016 was 74; up from 62 the previous year.
2. Why is Industry 4.0 important?
If Industry 4.0 has its way, the entire manufacturing process could soon be automated, interconnected, and intelligent.
At RWTH Aachen, Prof. Meisen is training professionals to be “Industry 4.0-ready.” RWTH Aachen’s International Academy Industry 4.0 courses teach participants how to apply technologies—like AI, machine learning, and big data analytics—in a practical way.
“You have to deal with Industry 4.0 because you have to deal with digitization,” says Prof. Meisen. “Digitization is changing how we think, work, and communicate with each other. It’s changing the way industry works and opening up new opportunities. Industry 4.0 is about bringing these new technologies into a practical solution.”
3. What’s the future?
How could Industry 4.0 revolutionize manufacturing? Efficiency and flexibility are the buzzwords here.
“In the future, we will have a much better understanding of what is happening in the production cycle at any given time,” Prof. Meisen explains. “We’ll be able to change things during production, for the customer—like the color of a car for example.”
Mass customization means the factories of the future will be able to produce unique products, more quickly, in a cost-effective way.
4. What are the challenges?
For Prof. Meisen, the main challenge with Industry 4.0 is about creating an industry mindset open to change. That aside, Industry 4.0 must prove its worth in terms of return on investment.
“You can’t buy everything new—it’s too expensive,” he says. “You have to find a way to combine existing technologies and new technologies. I think that wholesale change will take time.”
5. What job opportunities will Industry 4.0 bring?
Like with every industrial revolution before it, one immediate concern over Industry 4.0 is the loss of jobs to machines.
Prof. Meisen thinks otherwise. “You have to deal with so many things which could be automated in your everyday work,” he says. “With Industry 4.0, you’ll have more time to deal with the things that are important.”
Instead, he says, the demand from employers, for professionals with the technical skills needed to understand and impact the onset of Industry 4.0, is on the up. RWTH Aachen’s Industry 4.0 courses are preparing professionals to compete.
“People working for engineering companies or in IT departments, data and computer scientists; everyone needs a basic understanding of these new technologies,” says Prof. Meisen. “RWTH Aachen is a very good starting point.”