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Industry 4.0: Back to Basics

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​Following my last blog where I considered some of the misconceptions surrounding Industry 4.0, I want to get ‘back-to-basics’ and look at what the component parts of Industry 4.0 actually are.

Without descending into the ‘white noise’, as described in my previous blog, it is important to have simple descriptions of what I understand big data, connected technology, connectivity, the Internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing to be:


Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that a business may collect on a day-to-day basis. Big data can be analysed for insights that lead to better strategic business decisions.


The combination of big data plus the internet is called connectivity or the Internet of things (IoT). 

We often control simple systems/everyday objects via computer devices by means of an app. Alternately we could combine with other control/display technologies to create a more complex system in which computers or robots make decisions instead of humans which is called artificial intelligence (AI).


Over the last 5 years, computing technology has evolved to enable us to collect, store and manipulate large amounts of data, usually off site in the cloud.

The cloud is really a collection of large purpose-built data farms and companies pay to access their data on a pay-as-you-go basis. As you can imagine, transferring high volumes of data requires high speed internet and protection from malicious and non-malicious threats (cyber security).   

Sometimes these data companies or third-party companies will store whole programs tailored to specific sectors and supply them on a pay as you use basis (either per request or via licence) – this is called Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS).  

Faster internet connection has also evolved to allow this data to be transferred or accessed in almost real-time. The mobile internet has meant that this transfer can be done anywhere that there is a good internet connection (hence we have music and video streaming). 

With a basic understanding of the definitions above, it’s important to next consider the real-world application to your business. There are four main areas where connected technology could have an impact:


These are ‘connected’ products – by this we mean controlled via internet/ethernet/Wi-Fi or similar. They can be simple products or include further technologies such as AI or augmented reality (AR).

Do not be fooled into thinking that SMART products are complex and therefore do not apply to your business. Many simple products are using SMART technology for product registration (consumer warranty), while manufacturers can monitor the use, misuse, performance and service intervals.


If we follow the conventional manufacturing sequence from sales, design and development through to manufacturing and quality – each department depends on an input from the previous department and human intervention during the process itself. 

Sales departments frequently collect customer requirements, add them to a SAP system, order prototypes and answer questions regarding supply and stockists. Designers are required to optimise a product and design them on CAD – once their part in the process is complete, they then pass the design to manufacturing, who use subtractive manufacturing techniques to make the final product.

Companies embracing SMART typically have customer apps where the customer can customise their order – the app can automatically link to request a sample order or SAP so parts are automatically ordered, manufacturing is then scheduled, while a CAD design is made ‘generative’ (rather than relying on designer skill) and a 3D printed prototype or similar is created. In essence, SMART Manufacturing removes many forms of waste.


Space comes at a premium; housing people, heating and lighting spaces alongside having the required software and IT infrastructure all comes at a price. At the same time flexible working and working from home is becoming more commonplace. What if you could understand how the space in your building is being utilised? What are the people flows? When and how are offices occupied? Can I limit the space required by buying software as a service instead of a licence hosted on your servers (i.e. pay-as-you-go)?


Being able to track your product seamlessly from raw parts, through manufacturing to delivery using location finding services.

We are seeing huge demand for specialists in the market, for example cloud developers, app developers, AI specialists. These people have been educated in specific disciplines, and, usually command a salary premium. To satisfy demand in lower level positions, it is quite common to take parallel skills from other industries and cross train, for example, games developers.

The impact Industry 4.0 will have on conventional jobs could be profound. Within a short space of time we may see additional skills move from ‘unheard of’ to ‘desirable’ and ‘mandatory’.

For example, a manufacturing engineer in automation, who may have SCADA experience, may now be required to have an understanding of vision systems or a proximity location system. Or a facilities manager who, only within the last 12 months, is now expected to be proficient in specialist workspace optimisation software. It is the sheer rate of change that will catch many companies and candidates off-guard.

When considering future skills, carrying out an organisational skills audit can highlight home-grown specialists and where upskilling on the latest innovations could futureproof a business. Increased automation and adoption of Industry 4.0 concepts will lead the way to a new landscape of skills and jobs. With the right planning and a pro-development culture, employees could seize the opportunity to move into fulfilling new, previously non-existent jobs, while allowing the business to move forward.

If you aren’t sure how Industry 4.0 will affect your business, then take a look at my previous blog where I outlined the benefits of utilising trade associations and the Future of British Manufacturing Initiative as starting points on your journey.

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