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Industrial revolution or evolution?

Industrial revolution or evolution

by Enno de Boer

My whole life, I have been preoccupied with how to make things. My father innovated steel products in Germany, and when I studied engineering, I chose to learn about factory production. Throughout my career, I’ve looked at the processes that get put into place to produce goods more efficiently – and the people that develop and execute these processes. I’ve studied the history of industry, and I’ve looked at manufacturing across sectors – from the creation of cars to pharmaceuticals.

We are in the midst of a new Industrial Revolution, and within a generation, everything is going to change.

Technology has transformed every industry, and manufacturers are only beginning to embrace the latest innovations. With innovations that can sense the health of equipment, augmented-reality, and self-learning and self-healing machines, it’s no wonder that many companies are unsure of where to start and unsure of how to begin transforming their production.

We know that too many organizations are stuck in “pilot purgatory.” They test but don’t scale. They try one technology but don’t think how technologies can work inter-operably. Less than a third of all manufacturers have begun implementing major Industry 4.0 technologies, like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) or robotics. 41 percent are still piloting at a single site, and 30 percent haven’t even started.

That’s why my colleagues and I have spent the last year working with the World Economic Forum on the Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production initiative. We believe that global manufacturing can reach its potential by understanding how businesses can accelerate the adoption of new technologies and how the private, social, and public sectors might collaborate to promote technological transformation.

We compiled and analysed lessons from over 500 technology companies and their deployment successes across numerous sectors to inform the white paper we introduced at the World Economic Forum’s 2018 annual meeting, in Davos, Switzerland. We determined that – across sectors and diverse manufacturing types -- there are around 40 proven innovations ready for immediate scale-up. We believe that all major manufacturers can immediately begin their transformations using these innovations.

Fully integrated into global manufacturing, these new technologies could create up to $3.7 trillion in additional global GDP by 2025 — value larger than Germany’s whole economy.

If government, business and civil society leaders want to get serious about manufacturing’s future, they will need to start working together.

That’s why I was so heartened by the response of leaders in Davos to our paper. The discussion immediately sparked conversations about how to strengthen tri-sector collaboration to ensure that innovation could become more accessible, especially for the small and mid-size manufacturers that make up the bulk of the manufacturing sector. Policy leaders immediately began discussing how education systems could be retooled to train the millions of data scientists, machine operators, IoT architects, and engineers that will be required in the future. Companies discussed sharing their lessons in a more concerted way. Thankfully, everyone moved to consensus about the need to consider the human consequences of disruptive change, as automation displaces many of today’s roles.

It is said that this is the fourth great Industrial Revolution, and that seems true. What remains to be seen, is whether we have really learned from the previous manufacturing revolutions to ensure that this time, we build a system that truly works.

Read the full white paper on the World Economic Forum website.