Internet of Things: Fuelling the 4th Industrial Revolution

The 4th Industrial Revolution has been empowering the manufacturing sector to incorporate cognitive intelligence into its machine-to-machine and machine-to-human interactions. This transformation is digitalising the manufacturing industry by placing focus on interconnectivity, real-time data processing, analysis and automation, with the goal of reducing resistance in standard manufacturing processes. One of the pillars of this industrial revolution is the Internet of Things (IoT). This technology is allowing organisations to make their business smarter and create data-driven agile processes that work with real-time data. IoT initiatives not only empower the digitalisation of internal manufacturing operations but also help companies to increase revenue and improve customer experience.

What is the Industrial Revolution?

The sequential industrial revolutions have led us to stand at the threshold of the fourth revolution. The first industrial revolution, in the early 19th century, helped manufacturers to evolve from manual labour to the use of machinery powered by water and steam engines. This helped further optimise the production process. The second industrial revolution in the early 20th century fostered the introduction of electricity and steel in factories, which helped increase efficiency within the factory and introduced the concept of an assembly line for mass production. The third industrial revolution in the latter half of the 20th century brought more automation and new digital industrial technology to manufacturing. This period that focused on technology and automation software set the pace for the fourth and current industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution is purely data-driven and looks to form a digital ecosystem that will help modify the profile of the workforce within the industry. It seems to help entail a future with fully integrated, automated, and optimised production workflows promoting digital collaboration across the supply chain. Therefore, engaging and empowering a highly collaborative workforce. Industry 4.0 is upheld by nine transforming technologies – Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Analytics, Augmented Reality, Additive Manufacturing, Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity, Horizontal and Vertical System Integration, Simulation and Autonomous Robots.

What is Internet of Things (IoT)?

IoT is an extensive system of connected devices, machines and sensors which process data in real-time. These devices can communicate with each other over the internet, essentially furthering the concept of objects being able to talk with one another. Data from these objects is filtered, transformed and stored, making it a critical part of workflows as this data can be analysed. Oracle defines the Internet of Things as, “The network of physical objects— “things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet”.

With the proliferation of devices and an increased amount of solutions connecting them, IoT is not limited to sensors on machines within a factory. It includes a wide range of devices, right from Amazon’s Echo Dot to the August Smart Lock, from the adorable Kuri Mobile Robot to the Kérastase Hair Coach – the $200 device that records the sound of users brushing their hair, making its vitality extremely questionable. IoT devices are slowly surrounding us. To think that a device could analyse one’s sleep pattern, use the data to understand whether they require coffee and have the coffee machine prepare this brewing cup of survival, would have been an unimaginable feat a couple of years ago.

What is the effect of IoT on Industry 4.0?

The Internet of Things, nicknamed the Industrial Internet of Things, with regards to the fourth industrial revolution, is using embedded computing and cyber-physical systems to network sensors and machines together. Embedded computing or an embedded system is a computer device with a processor and memory that has a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electrical system. Cyber-physical systems (CPS) comprise interacting digital, analogue, physical and human components engineered for function through integrated physics and logic as described by NIST. These systems are essentially controlled and monitored by algorithms. The goal is to connect more and more devices within factories and manufacturing units as well as more centralised controllers. These connected systems will be able to interact, analyse data, predict change and configure themselves. The aspect of collecting real-time data to make intelligent decisions is what makes IoT so fascinating, which is why the emergence of 5G and Edge Computing will play a massive role in the ongoing pervasiveness of this technology.

Key Impacts:

  • Production processes would be automated and optimised into one integrated process through the collaboration of producers and suppliers.
  • Suppliers would have to consider adapting to the changes made to machines and systems in factories. They may have to prepare for the integration of new technology into their existing systems and build an organisation with infrastructure that will be able to undergo further digitalisation.
  • As manufacturers prepare for this revolution, they would have to re-examine their current supply networks and consider how they can plan to maintain and increase agility throughout their processes to ensure affluent production and optimal use of resources.
  • Autonomous vehicles, machines and robots on the floor of the factory may be able to sense any changes in production needs and automatically adjust to ensure smooth working.
  • The high availability of the latest data could enable faster response times to customer needs as the production process will be operating at rates higher than normally attributed to automation.

With the increased popularity of IoT, businesses are looking to capitalise on its benefits. Organisations are focusing their efforts to align their IoT projects with their own business outcomes to increase revenue and improve customer experience. The use of analytics may enable businesses to gain insight into customer preferences and choices, which would allow organisations to shift their focus onto services that would better satisfy customer demands and expectations. According to Gartner, 63% of enterprises expect that they will achieve financial payback in three years for their IoT projects. However, there are a combination of factors that organisations must consider to prevail.

Concerns regarding the usage of IoT

According to Forbes, we are in an “Extreme Data Economy” where businesses need to analyse and react to data in real-time. Companies need to be able to cope with data, which is why they must familiarise themselves with the following concerns:

  • One of the greatest threats to the expansion of IoT is the ability to secure the data it procures. Smart devices are one of the main targets for hackers. Companies will have to find ways to ensure that their data and their customers’ data are secure, and must also have remedial measures ready in case of a breach.
  • The IoT devices and solutions will be generating massive amounts of data. Steps will have to  be taken to ensure that this data can be stored securely without loss. Companies need to have strict policies in place regarding what personnel has access to this data. The key consideration would be to ensure that there are solutions in place to analyse this vast amount of data and deliver business advantages.

Business Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2026 there will be more than 64 billion IoT devices installed around the world. The Internet of Things will be everywhere. Manufacturers will leverage partnerships to build businesses and incorporate digital agility into their supply chains. The need for a digital ecosystem across a variety of industrial areas is predicted to drive momentum, producing an increased output. IoT will not only be used in certain areas of the business, but also across it to deliver value and achieve unparalleled industrial strength. The unexplored potential of this technology will be unleashed, as organisations take more digital steps during this industrial revolution, and we will see its rippling effects in the digital future.


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