The Fourth Industrial Revolution what is it? and how it could affect SMEs

Over the last two hundred years we have gradually removed the reliance on manual labour, removing the need for people and animals from the workforce and moving from steam, to oil, to computers, to now the digital revolution, which will change how goods are produced.

Unlike the last 3 industrial revolutions, which generally saw the impact of a single innovation, Industry 4.0 is built on 9 technology pillars, but the impact on human labour is expected to have the potential to change how we work, where we work and when we work beyond recognition for a large % of the manufacturing workforce. For 4IR to really work to its fullest potential there needs to be a coming together of the different technologies.

The 9 technologies:

Cybersecurity – with the use of Big Data in 4IR minimizing data breaches and detecting cyber threats becomes essential for all businesses.

Autonomous Robotics – Industry 4.0 can provide simple scanning and screening to complex and delicate tasks.

Simulation/Digital twin – allows for analysis of specific malfunctions

3D Printing – prototype production and parts production

IOT (The Internet of Things) – smoother supply chains, rapid design, consumer preferences.

Augmented Reality – Overlaying digital content over the real environment, with implications for maintenance, service and quality assurance.

Cloud Computing – The basis for some of the most advances in AI and machine learning.

Horizontal and vertical integration – communication throughout the business bottom up top down.

Big Data and AI – some of the most exciting usages in manufacturing, capturing and using data from all areas of business, customers, logistics, marketing, and finance.

How will this impact on SMEs?

SMEs play an important role in the world’s economy, but they are challenged when it comes to the migration over to new technologies, often due to financial or capacity restraints. Although staying up to date with global trends and innovation is critical for survival and growth, many owners of small businesses remain operational and often don’t get the time to invest in creative thinking and in change, holding onto old ways of doing things which in a rapidly changing workplace can leave them behind.

But for those small businesses who grab hold and run with new practices and look at ways to improve business practices through 4IR the opportunities are endless.