Tech Trend: Industry 4.0

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The starting line for “Industry 4.0” is hard to pinpoint. After all, self-monitoring systems have been around for a while now. But for many observers, Industry 4.0 is defined by processes that are able to not only monitor and correct themselves, but also to learn and improve on their own. Technologies such as AI, machine learning and predictive analytics can tear through mountains of data at a rate human operators simply can’t match.

You can probably guess the business drivers for Industry 4.0 – efficiency, innovation and rapid adaptation. Goals that industry has been aspiring to for decades. But many observers say that advances in learning tech, along with supply chain disruptions and other economic pressures escalated by the pandemic, have brought this next step in digital industry to a real inflection point. Think of embedded sensors as Industry 3.0, IoT as Industry 3.5, and AI as Industry 4.0. Mostly.

This piece by a VP at Minneapolis-based Protolabs, a real-time parts manufacturer, does a great job of walking through the Industry 4.0 story. In addition to consumers’ demand for more choices and the need to accelerate product development, the piece notes that AI and other learning tech relies on what amounts to a massive infrastructure project at most companies to implement real-time data flows.

That starting line is still a bit blurry, though. This “Industry 4.0” profile of metal-plating manufacturer Master Finish Co. details how ERP software, reporting dashboards and other innovations like 3D printing have helped the Grand Rapids-based firm grow in uncertain economic times. But there’s little discussion of learning tech and automated process change – it’s just smart, data-driven business management.

Whatever Industry 4.0 is, a lot of observers expect it to experience rapid growth in the coming years, with a CAGR hovering around 20 percent through 2026 or 2027, depending on who you ask. Estimates of the global Industry 4.0 market can range from $86 billion in 2020 to $64.9 billion in 2021. So it’s big, however you define it.