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Smart manufacturing and the fourth industrial revolution (a.k.a. industry 4.0) have been mentioned in public forums and the media quite a bit. This month, President Obama announced that a Los Angeles-based team was selected to lead a new smart manufacturing hub bankrolled with $140 million in public-private funds. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been talking a lot about the fourth industrial revolution in a number of speeches. Like many people, you may be curious about smart manufacturing and industry 4.0 including how they are related.

Andrew Waycott summarizes the industrial revolution progression and the connection to smart manufacturing well in IndustryWeek:

  1. The first industrial revolution started in England in the 18th century. Think: mechanical looms.
  2. The second centered on electrically-powered mass production, near the start of the 20th century. Think: Henry Ford and assembly lines.
  3. The third is electronics, robotics, and IT. Think: computers enter the office and manufacturing space.
  4. The fourth is about harnessing the power of data. More specifically, it’s about big data, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence. It includes smart manufacturing. Early computers did what humans could do, but computers are now faster and more efficient. Smart manufacturing puts machines in the business of real decision-making—through calculations outside the range of human capabilities. Think: the data tells us what to do.

What drives smart manufacturing? According to Conrad Leiva, VP Product Strategy and Alliances at iBasetbut, the following provide the building blocks for smart manufacturing:

Smart Machines and Advanced Robotics

Smart machines communicate with manufacturing systems and display a high level of autonomy. These machines recognize product configurations and diagnostic information, and make decisions to solve problems without human intervention. Robots have enhanced sensors, dexterity and intelligence that enable them to perform tasks without being pre-programmed. Sensors make them aware of the environment and safer for the people around them.

Industrial Internet of Things

Manufacturing devices with network and internet connectivity — from mobile tablets to smart shelves to sensors embedded in automation controls to smart machines — are active participants in event-driven, self-healing manufacturing processes integrated with open standards that support connectivity via the internet.

Cloud Services

Cloud software and platform services are delivered over the internet. They enable convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly deployed with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Big Data Processing Capabilities

Big data tools, like streaming analytics, enable processing of large streams of data coming out of connected devices to support operational visibility, analysis and diagnostics over physical assets, processes and supply chains. Harnessing the power of big data analytics will allow manufacturers to not only analyze trends but also to predict equipment lifespan, capacity fluctuation, and demand patterns.

Clearly “smart manufacturing” and the “fourth industrial revolution” are more than just buzzwords. They are going to help reshape how things are made by companies in the U.S. and abroad.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: DSC00449, Flickr)