Industrial Revolutions: From First to 4.0
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Is Industry 4.0 completely automation?
Supplying the product that a customer wishes timely, of high quality and at low cost.
Industry 4.0 is the most discussed topic among manufacturers in the recent years. There are even elementary schools that advertise via highlighting their curricula's conformity to Industry 4.0. That being said, there are questions in people's minds that are still not clear: Is Industry 4.0 completely automation? Is it new machinery or placing sensors all over a product?
To have a grasp of today's events, we need to look at the past and have a good understanding of it. For this reason, let's remember the other three industrial revolutions that took place before this one, as well as their processes.
First industrial revolution
1700s are the years that the first industrial revolution took place. The sector that paved the way was the textile sector. The use of cotton as a raw material instead of wool lowered the cost of production, while also speeding it up and making it adaptable to mass manufacturing. The start of the use of coal allowed mines to be melted in high temperatures and steel was produced. Steam boilers were made from steel and textile machines were started to be functioned with steam power.
If there is manufacturing at a place, there should also be three significant activities: Raw material supply, sales and logistics. The changes in these supported the acceleration in industry. The start of the use of coal and steam power in trains and ships ensured easy transportation to remote distances and with these developments, raw materials started to be supplied from new places and products started to be sold to new markets.
As a result of these developments, capital working class was formed in the society, migration from villages to cities emerged and nation states started to be founded with the kings and churches losing their power. Besides, the concept of slavery emerged in the African nations that steamed ships supplied raw materials from.
Second industrial revolution
The main locomotive of the second industrial revolution that developed in the 1800s is electricity and fossil fuels. Electric engines are way smaller than steam engines. Manufacturers found the opportunity to be more creative within the manufacturing area when steam engines that took up massive spaces in manufacturing areas gave way to relatively smaller electric engines. Taylor and Ford made history by using these advantages. Work analysis, standardization of manufacturing and montage lines are the methods that are being used since then.
The use of fossil fuel, meanwhile, gave birth to a new transportation vehicle and the sector that has been the locomotive of industry ever since: On-road vehicles. With the start of the use of trucks, raw materials were able to be purchased in smaller scales and this provided the opportunity for an increase in product diversity. The processes of both raw material supply and serving the completed product to customers accelerated.
The second industrial revolution included two massive world wars, the Great Depression of 1929 and a decades long Cold War within its body. While all of these events have different backgrounds, the underlying factor is the reflection of raw material and market competitions to countries from companies and the decrease in consumption power. These processes brought forward a new sector: War industry. This sector has never ceased to grow since the day it emerged and it has been growing without any signs of slowing down. In the society, on the other hand, concepts of individualization and freedom took the center stage.
Third industrial revolution
Computers played the leading role during the third industrial revolution, which was born towards the end of the 1900s and has been ongoing to this day. Computers increased the design and manufacturing processes and stepped up their qualities. In the subject of method improvement, the Japanese started to come into prominence and plenty of concepts, such as TPM, Lean Manufacturing, 5S and Kanban, entered out lives with the Toyota Production System established by Taiichi Ohno. The determining factor of manufacturing became the consumer. The main aim was set as transporting the product that a customer wishes timely, of high quality and at low cost. The plastic and polyester raw materials that started to be used towards the end of the second industrial revolution increased the diversity of products, even though they shortened their lifetime, and ensured a significant decrease in prices. With the development of internet and e-commerce, the producer and customer became able to communicate directly with each other. Logistics went out of being one of the side occupations of companies and turned into a separate and significant sector. The most apparent change in the society took place with the use of internet, social networks and rapid consumption and their effects, as well as their developments, are still ongoing.
In sum, when these developments are examined, the unchanging main purpose is out in the open: To provide the customer with the product he/she wishes on time, of high quality and at low cost. Steam, gasoline, electricity, computer and many more technological developments' contributions to these revolutions correspond to their contributions to the aforementioned three factors.
In these recent years that Industry 4.0 is being extensively discussed, technology is rapidly continuing its development. Numbers of new technological concepts have started to be discussed: Mobile internet, Internet of Things, cloud informatics, big data, 3D printers, virtualization, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, smart factories and etc. This article won't go into these concepts' details and won't examine the examples of their applications. However, the fact that each of these concepts are tools must be kept in mind. The companies that will lead the fourth industrial revolution will be those that meet the demands of and even surprise their customers with these tools. It carries utmost importance to get a grasp of the changes and expectations in the society within this process. For this reason, Society 5.0 that emerged from Japan needs to be fully understood. That, however, will be the subject of another article.