In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, demonstrates that industry is currently undergoing a fourth revolution — a great “turning” — in the way we build and deliver the products that drive our global economy.

This fourth turning — preceded by the first in the late 1700s with the appearance of factories, the second in the early twentieth century with the appearance of the automobile, and the third after World War II with the advent of computers — is characterized by technological advancements in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), smart manufacturing, and increasing automation.

With B2B spending on IoT technology, apps, and solutions predicted to reach $267 billion by 2020, “Industry 4.0” is driving “creative destruction” along three vectors that are changing the face of industrial product engineering:

1. Virtual prototyping and augmented reality

The design process is being increasingly simulated in the digital world to test and perfect products not only long before they go to market but long before they are ever physically created. Digital simulation dramatically reduces the margin for unforeseen error in product design and development, vetting a product at a phase where redesign is not only feasible but highly cost-effective.

Combined with augmented reality solutions that allow designers, engineers, manufacturers, marketers, and other stakeholders — even those on different continents — to easily view and collaborate on a product at any stage of its creation, digital simulations are breaking down barriers between design and development and between those involved at the various stages of a product’s lifecycle.

2. 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing)

3D printing, a manufacturing process that is disrupting traditional industrial product engineering practices, enables three-dimensional objects to be built from successively deposited layers of material. Starting with a 3D model of the desired product that has been digitally rendered with computer-aided-design (CAD) or with a digital scan of an existing product or part, the model is digitally “sliced” into cross-sectional layers, resulting in a digital “blueprint” that is sent to the printer. The 3D printer then operates according to the instructions in the blueprint by extruding “ink” (this ink can be synthetic, organic, or even biological material) that eventuates in a three-dimensional object.

3D printing brings with it a wealth of unprecedented possibilities, including the ability to dispense with the expensive process of specialized tooling, the ability to generate geometrically complex designs precluded by traditional manufacturing techniques, and a means to overcome the glaring inefficiencies of the traditional supply chain.

3. Smart factories

Manufacturing facilities are becoming increasingly “smart” (responsive, adaptive, connected) with cloud computing and sensor technology connected to the IoT. The smart factory is a giant leap beyond traditional automation, comprising a highly integrated and flexible system capable of learning and adapting to real-time demands as fed by an everflowing stream of data from IoT-enabled operations and production systems.

As explored in an article by Deloitte, the smart factories that are leading industrial product engineering into the future can “integrate data from system-wide physical, operational, and human assets to drive manufacturing, maintenance, inventory tracking, digitization of operations through the digital twin, and other types of activities across the entire manufacturing network. The result can be a more efficient and agile system, less production downtime, and a greater ability to predict and adjust to changes in the facility or broader network.”

The wheels of Industry 4.0 are rapidly turning, and if you’re ready to revolutionize your operations or are trying to bring a product to market, we can help. At Pivot, we have a track record of over forty years of expert experience in partnering with manufacturers to achieve state-of-the-art operations, and with businesses to help them successfully launch new products. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.