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Today, when we’re talking about manufacturing, we’re inevitably talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Industry 4.0.

The current manufacturing landscape has unique identifiers that—together—form the concept of Industry 4.0. Artificial intelligence, connected devices, big data and automation fall under this umbrella.

If your manufacturing company is thinking about enhancing its business process with any aspect of this new digital frontier, knowing what exactly is in store during this era can be useful.

Here’s a quick history flashback: The first industrial revolution was reached in the 1760s and defined by steam-powered iron machines that replaced manpower. The second, in the 1890s, was the era of railroads, telegraphs and electricity that set the stage of modern living. In the 1980s, as Madonna rose to stardom, so did digital controls that replaced the analog and mechanical variety.

Columbus-Manufacturing2020-infographics-06

Now we’re well into the Industry 4.0 phase of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the era of connectivity. By 2020, Statista Research predicts there will be around 6.58 network connected devices per person worldwide. That’s roughly 50 billion connected devices.

As individuals, we’re connected all the time, from our smart watches to our Alexa devices to the omni-present mini-computers we call cell phones. Businesses are connected too, especially manufactures. As Forbes Enterprise & Cloud Contributor Bernard Marr puts it, “connected machines will interact, visualize the entire production chain and make decisions autonomously.”

The perks will be plentiful—smarter machines mean increased efficiency and reduced downtime, which ultimately translates to more revenue.

But there are also concerns. Adopting these cutting-edge innovations can be costly and create a noticeable discrepancy between large companies with big budgets and smaller operations with modest spending power. There’s also a fear of socioeconomic consequences for the workforce. Plus, as things become more and more digitized, cybersecurity is always top-of-mind for business decision makers.

That said, the revolution is well underway, and while these concerns must be addressed and accommodated, there’s no going backwards when it comes to the progress already made. If a company is looking down the barrel of Industry 4.0 with unease, the solution is education—learn the landscape in order to make smart business decisions—and finding the software and technology partner that fits your budget and needs. Even if an operation is small, it can still adapt and innovate comfortably in this climate when done correctly.

Want to learn more about the technologies shaping Industry 4.0? Download our free e-book.

Five Technology Trends for Smart Manufacturers

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