Industry 4.0 - evolution, not revolution

The expression “fourth industrial revolution” refers to a radical change in production technology. Although the effects of this change will be characterized as revolutionary when considered in retrospect, their impact on existing manufacturing operations will be more gradual. The path to the Industry 4.0 model will be an evolutionary one – as it was with previous industrial upheavals in production technology.

From our present-day vantage point, the invention of the steam engine marked the start of the first industrial revolution. For the first time, mechanical production units replaced human workers in factories. This made it possible, by the end of the 18th century, to manufacture products more quickly and in greater quantities than ever before.

Access to electrical power and the introduction of the assembly line concept represent the second industrial revolution. At the start of the 20th century, the assembly line allowed many production steps to be divided into individual processes, employees to become more specialized and production costs to be significantly reduced.

In the early 1970s, automation found its way into production. Customers demanded a greater variety of high-quality products. This became possible through the use of electronics and information technologies in manufacturing. Manual production steps were taken over by machines – the start of the third industrial revolution.

Today, we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution – also known as Industry 4.0. Intelligent, networked technical systems are expected to usher in this change, the foundation for which was laid years ago by parallel developments in the fields of electronics, software technology, networking and mechatronics.

Development toward intelligent technical systems (source: Fraunhofer IPT)
Development toward intelligent technical systems (source: Fraunhofer IEM)