Industry 4.0: Transforming the Very Framework of Society

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The fourth industrial revolution is fast approaching. Industry 4.0 is transforming homes, healthcare, money, education, government, manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. In short, it is influencing the very framework of society. We’ll look at a few ways this industrial evolution is informing the consumer, healthcare and manufacturing industries, and the connected devices that drive these advances.

Industry, in the traditional context, refers to all levels of product development, manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain management. Industry 4.0 builds on the third wave, which began in 2016. During that time, the Internet was developed into a vast array of products and services, bringing a new era of business models and reinvention. At the core of the third revolution was the idea of Internet-access and wireless connectivity as primary enablers, according to Dr. Jonathan Reichental’s series, Foundations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This third revolution was the catalyst for the fourth. Industry 4.0 is the information-intensive transformation of manufacturing and other sectors in a connected environment of data, people, processes, services, and systems.

The drivers of this evolution include hardware developments, such as the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, as well as software advances. These include blockchain technology, edge computing, and cloud computing, which connect with big data tools such as machine learning and AI.

For Consumer Products, Customer Experience is King

Consumer products, such as smartphones and cloud computing services (like apps, social media, and email), are the point of origin for many of the products and technologies that will be part of Industry 4.0.

Brands will enhance customer experiences by making response times faster, (e.g., responding to customer outreach/complaints), improving entertainment value, (e.g., introducing gamification into UX), making interoperability seamless (e.g., IoT gadgets that work across brand lines), and increasing transparency (e.g., the sourcing history of goods). These elements will require better information through AI about individual customer habits. Successful implementation will increase loyalty, according to PWC’s Industry 4.0: Opportunities and Challenges for Consumer Product and Retail Companies.

For example, brick and mortar stores are introducing a “click and collect” model, according to the report. Customers can shop at Walmart online and pick up groceries at easy-to-reach locations. Further, these stores might soon offer a “scan and shop” service so customers in store can use their smartphones to scan items and leave the store without requiring a check out queue.

Masters of digital technology are looking for ways to appeal to “in person” shopping or “last mile delivery” by pairing with traditional brick and mortars as well. Juggernaut Amazon made headlines a few years ago with its purchase of Whole Foods Markets. Amazon also partnered with Kohl’s, which will accept Amazon purchase returns and sell Amazon merchandise.

Online retailers have also introduced subscription-based services that allow consumers to reorder consumable products seamlessly. Another tactic that builds loyalty is to give customers access to expert services. Stitchfix, for example, features a fashion consultant that chooses new clothes for a customer and sends them at agreed-upon intervals.

Such services require technology that can provide real-time information about the flow of goods from the point of origin to the consumer, noted the PWC authors. The technology must offer event details, such as physical composition, manufacturing, and serial numbers. Customers should have access to transparency about factors like product origin, delivery process visibility, and availability status. Finally, the system must link to the back-end business process structure using ERP, EMS, CRM, and more to ensure post-market quality to retain customers or shift with customer needs.

On the consumer/user side, all that is required is a smartphone or computer, but wearable technologies are expanding and increasingly offering integration and interoperability to make consumer’s lives even easier. Wearable options include watches, glasses, clothing, headphones, cameras, and fitness trackers. These collect data and proved instant feedback, as well as connecting to cloud systems that apply artificial intelligence and machine learning that respond to user behaviors.

However, some of the most immediate applications of AI and machine learning are in healthcare.

AI and IoT are Transforming Healthcare and Wellness

In healthcare, connected devices have multiple touch points with varying users, including patients, caregivers, and providers. Smartphones, smartwatches, and clothing with flexible sensors are used as wellness devices that gather data for fitness as well as to predict and warn about health events for an individual.

Connected handhelds are used at the point-of-care in a doctor’s office or in conjunction with connected, collaborative robots in a surgical room. Smart devices used for ongoing chronic disease management, in turn, provide services to help those populations better manage their health.

AI, IoT, and machine learning used has developed for the treatment of chronic disease as a series of “nudges” toward healthier habits. Such technology relies on a deeper understanding and application of behavioral psychology.

A significant concern with connected healthcare is ensuring that data remain secure from hackers and in compliance with HIPAA rules. Security must be a priority for medical devices, although this concern is valid for all industries.

IoT, Cloud, and Robots Redefine Smart Manufacturing

Smart conveyor belts, improved machining efficiencies, more efficient purchasing and supply chain management, and total product lifecycle management are just a few ways traditional industry is evolving with Industry 4.0.

For example, CNC machining is vital in modern manufacturing. It is used in multiple industries, from agriculture and aerospace to firearms and circuit boards. The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) allows the use of familiar devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to interact with CNC machines conveniently, at a distance, and in a variety of ways, notes IoT Magazine contributor, Meagan Ray Nichols. For example, machinists can schedule maintenance for their equipment using mobile devices or elect to receive notifications when the machines themselves “notice” they’re due for a tune-up.

In addition, the use of robotics on the manufacturing floor is on the rise. These machines prevent human injury by collaborating with humans to complete tasks. Robotics technology relies on increasingly sensitive force sensors and load cells that can perform delicate work, communicate with other machines for secondary processes, and provide product quality and inventory feedback to ERP systems.

Connected wearables, such as smart glasses and handheld computers, are being used to deliver real-time information (e.g., inventory, safety, and quality control) to machinists and floor managers. IoT-enabled industrial assets generate and leverage actionable information.

Finally, cloud technology provides the key to connecting these systems. Scalable cloud, coupled with AI and machine learning, ensures manufactures have safe and efficient access to all data collected and feedback that creates actionable information.

Industry 4.0 Means Connectedness

The overarching theme of Industry 4.0 is connectedness, so it makes sense that the lines between consumer technology, healthcare technology, and manufacturing technology are blurring.

Advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, sensors, cloud computing, and big data analytics all exist in manufacturing, consumer, and healthcare sectors. However, the combination of these significant technology innovations, progressing at the same time will significantly shift our landscape.

As they integrate, the physical and virtual worlds interlink. The goal of Industry 4.0: to build ecosystems of innovation and collaboration.

Product Creation Studio is pleased to bring you exclusive, on-going content by Heather Thompson, a former senior editor for Medical Design & Outsourcing and MD+DI magazine. With 15 years of experience covering medical technologies and FDA regulations, Heather specializes in delivering the latest trends and news in the medical device industry.