A Global View of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Dec. 10, 2018

EU Automation’s book takes a look at how the phrase we love to hate is changing people’s journeys worldwide.


Little did the three scientists who invented the phrase Industry 4.0 know that the term would become such a global phenomenon just a few years later. However, the resulting global drive to digitalize has been fragmented, with different countries using differing phrases for activities contained within Industry 4.0. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at EU Automation, explains why, far from being an issue that divides us, these journeys symbolize the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


In many ways, it was a trade fair like any other. Except it wasn’t. It was Hannover Messe; the world’s largest exhibition of industrial technologies. As well as being home to thousands of stands exhibiting the latest and greatest developments in areas such as automation, controls, power and renewable energy, the trade show hosted the launch of the phrase Industry 4.0.


The beginning

Three engineers held a press conference at Hannover Fair in April 2011 to tell the world about their new vision: Industrie 4.0. Here, Dr Henning Kagermann of the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), Dr Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and Dr Wolf-Dieter Lukas from the Federal Ministry of Research and Education, explained that being able to assert oneself as a production location in a high-wage region is increasingly becoming a key issue in global competition.


They said that one of the reasons why Germany has been so successful at mastering the economic effects of the financial crisis is because of the development and integration of new technologies and processes. Going forward, this means getting ready for the, internet-driven, Fourth Industrial Revolution.


The pace of change

Where the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam to power mechanical manufacturing, the Second used electricity for mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate and now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is using digital technologies to characterize a fusion that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds.


The interesting thing is that, although the revolutions themselves are nothing new, what is changing is the speed at which they are occurring. The First lasted around 80 years, the Second lasted around 44 years, the Third lasted 31 years and the Fourth started less than a decade ago.


However, the pace of change is not uniform. What is clear is that different countries are on different points on the journey to digitalize and progress is fastest in industries such as financial services, electronics, telecoms, automotive and machinery, it has been slower in areas such as logistics, consumer goods, real estate and construction.


There is a disparity between the rates of adoption of new technologies and awareness about what the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers as well as a lack of a cohesive leadership intended to drive change initiatives. This has resulted in a fragmented system, with the concept of industrial digitalization, or Industry 4.0, referred to by various names including Society 5.0, Smart Industry, Industrie du Futur, Industria Conectada 4.0, Manufacturing USA and Made in China 2025.



As we’ve already mentioned Germany, let’s look at how the birthplace of Industry 4.0 is faring. It boasts the largest national economy in Europe and the fourth largest by nominal GDP in the world. In 2016, it recorded the highest global trade surplus and it is the world’s third largest exporter.


While the term Industry 4.0 was coined in 2011, this was a culmination of the progress made by the German Government’s own high-tech industrial strategy that was introduced in 2006.


The strategy looked at how the country could become a world leader in research and innovation. It involved the creation of a working advisory group, whose work on cyber-physical systems, mobility, health, energy and production prompted the Government to adopt “Industrie 4.0”. This resulted in the creation of the Plattform Industrie 4.0, a collaboration set up in April 2013 by three private associations for digitalizing industry.


The UK

Over in the UK, the home of the First Industrial Revolution, things are only just recovering following the financial crash of 2009. Lagging productivity has forced the UK Government to introduce its Industrial Strategy.


The strategy outlines four ‘Grand Challenges’ where Britain can lead the global technological revolution: artificial intelligence and big data; clean growth; the future of mobility and meeting the needs of an ageing society.


Despite an overall fall in economic productivity, the UK manufacturing sector is thriving, but it will be the potential growth of the sector and its use of digital technologies that will ensure the success of wider digitalization.


The UK has a particularly strong competency in advanced manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, fintech and construction. So, despite some roadblocks, the UK is in a very good position to take advantage of the growth in digital. By maintaining this progress and overcoming the barriers — and simply being less reluctant to adopt new technologies — the UK can once again prosper.


A global view

These two countries only scratch the surface of the digital journey made by countries around the world. We’ve compiled analysis and insight on these and many other places, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Scandinavia and Spain in our new book, 4.0 Sight – Digital industry around the world.


Since the publication of our first book, The Book of Obsolescence Management, we’ve been on a journey as a business. Specializing in the supply of obsolete industrial parts, EU Automation has been growing rapidly in the last decade. Having started with a small team tasked with helping reduce downtime for manufacturers, we’ve grown to become a multi-national company with offices in Chicago and Singapore and customers in dozens of countries further afield.


On our travels, we’ve spoken to a wide variety of people and one of the recurring issues that we came across was that different countries are on different points in their journey to digitalization.


However, far from being an issue that divides us, what we realized was that governments and businesses around the world have given different names to technologies and programs that we have in common. These things are largely contained under the umbrella term Industry 4.0, the unifying phrase that describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


So, we decided to write this book to serve as a roadmap for the pioneering initiatives and the cutting-edge technologies that are changing the world. From the book, 4.0 sight: digital industry around the world, you will gain insights from experts that hail from a mix of industries, the big nine technologies changing industry, as well as find predictions on how the technological landscape will change in the coming years.


4.0 Sight charts the digital journey for manufacturing industries in various countries around the world, looking at the key trends and challenges.