14 July, 2024

Are you ready for the next ‘big noise’ in UK Manufacturing?

25 September, 2015

BFPA CEO, Chris Buxton comments upon the inexorable rise of Industry 4.0 across all sectors of manufacturing.


Earlier this year myself and two BFPA colleagues ran a BFPA UK pavilion at the Motion, Drive & Automation (MDA) exhibition in Hanover. Like all German fairs it was impressive on several levels – not least of all the size. However, perhaps one of the most significant features was the astonishingly high profile taken by the latest revolution in manufacturing, Industry 4.0. It was impossible to walk down an aisle in any hall without seeing some mention of this all-pervading ‘philosophy’. I choose the word ‘philosophy’ for want of a better term as depending upon who one speaks to, one is faced with a different definition. Upon returning to the UK, the presence of Industry 4.0 was equally evident in trade journals, advertising, seminar programmes and conferences. There is no doubt that this ‘revolution’ is gaining astonishing momentum in the UK Manufacturing community and is set to become as well established and accessible as lean engineering has since it was first introduced by Toyota in the 1990s. No surprise then that the BFPA Annual Statistics and Economic Seminar in September included a very well received presentation on Industry 4.0 from Dr Lina Huertas, a PhD in the application of informatics solutions at the UK Manufacturing Technology Centre where she is heading the Industry 4.0 initiative and the MTC Manufacturing Informatics Project.


What is striking about this new approach to manufacturing is the potential that it has with regard to standardisation of inter-machine communications protocol and the implications for increasing efficiency, data management and the very basis for manufacturing technology. However, equally striking, is the fact this new concept is moving so fast that many companies, particularly those in the UK SME sector are not fully appreciative of its potential and the impact that it is going to have on manufacturing as a whole. This is, of-course, worrying as whilst early adopters of any new concept suffer the growing pains associated with its introduction, they ultimately gain significant competitive advantage and it is apparent that German manufacturers and other central European companies are approaching it with far greater receptivity than ourselves in the UK.

As Dr. Huertas explained, the term ‘Industry 4.0’ refers to the fourth industrial revolution. It originates from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerisation of manufacturing. The first industrial revolution was the mechanisation of production using water and steam power. The second industrial revolution then introduced mass production with the help of electric power, followed by the digital revolution and the use of electronics and IT to further automate production.

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