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Winds of change…

Klaus Schwab introduced the now widely used term Industry 4.0, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ at Davos in 2016, describing it as ‘the technological revolution that is blurring the lines amongst the physical, digital and biological spheres.’

The first industrial revolution (IR) led to the introduction of machines that used power from steam and water for processes such as forging and shaping metals. It also established the factory system for production. The Second IR involved the generation of energy from fossil fuel, the internal combustion engine and the manufacture of steel and automobiles. High levels of automation and extensive use of robots characterised the Third IR. The Fourth IR is based on the Internet, robotics, and IoT.

DRIVERS OF THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

There are three critical drivers of IR 4.0. One: the Internet. It enables the global connectivity of computers so long as they are connected. Two: robotics. It’s a sophisticated technology embracing electronics, computer science, nanotechnology, AI and biotechnology. Three: the Internet of Things [IoT]. This enables real-time decision-making, and communication for machines and devices with sensor-enabled appliances. Other technologies holding enormous possibilities of impacting mankind are Blockchain, 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

All the devices and systems and materials are connected to the Internet and are capable of communicating with one another. When a new order is placed, all devices connected with the order process receive the order information and start talking to each other. If the material is short, the system issues a purchase order to the supplier. When all materials are available, the scheduling system plans out the manufacturing schedule. Robots initiate the process by picking up the elements and the process gets activated automatically. Once production is complete, the product moves to the warehouse and a delivery note is sent out to the Logistics department. Technicians monitor the entire operation through a virtual environment from the Control Centre. Customers, too, have visibility of the whole process.

There is a flip side too. Cyber security needs to be of the highest order to prevent hacking, intentional or otherwise. Another aspect is required for re-training or even rehabilitation of personnel whose jobs get automated.

INDIA’S POSITION

For Indian factories with abundant manpower and paper-based processes, automation has not been an attractive proposition. Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) reports: “14 per cent of the Indian companies are a part of the Fourth IR. Sixty-two per cent are lagging behind and want to exhaust low-cost options before scaling up.” Globally, countries that endorsed Industry 4.0 are benefitted through high productivity levels, uniform quality and reduced cost of manufacture.

India lacks a skilled workforce that can understand the sophistication of the cutting-edge robotic technology coupled with AI and IoT. According to KPMG, the share of a workforce skilled in the latest technologies is 4.7 per cent in India, 24 per cent in China and 96 per cent in South Korea. Hence, skilling is important and to be taken seriously. Building automation capability on existing assets or acquiring new ones is important. Upgrading Information Technology and Operational Technology and ensuring their convergence are essential. This integration of automation, communication and networking is an integral part of IoT. Government, a bunch of tech start-ups and academics would help early adoption of Industry 4.0.

By 2023, the competitive advantage of businesses across all industries globally will be driven by AI-based innovations and the effective utilisation of IoT. The RRA survey lists the ‘knowledge gap’ and ‘lack of awareness to absorb the changes’ as the prime reasons for the slow adoption of Industry 4.0 in India. These are not insurmountable, given the surfeit of IT professionals and technical/management talent available in the country.

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