According to experts in the world’s most high-value industries, there have been three industrial revolutions to date—and there is a new one on the way. Steam and electricity powered the first and second industrial revolutions, respectively, while the third revolution involved the first wave of digital technologies. Many believe that we are now entering what’s termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also called “4IR” or “Industry 4.0.” This new movement will be characterized by its heavy reliance on smart and interconnected technologies, which include advanced robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, virtual reality (VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) among others. 

Industry 4.0 will challenge our preconceptions of how productive our societies can be in hybrid physical and virtual environments. As early as now, there’s evidence that fourth-wave technologies will allow us to achieve greater speed, accuracy, and productivity in key industries at exponential rates, in addition to getting the results we need in real-time and connecting with others without physical distance and time zones no longer being issues. That’s why it’s high time for international, national, and local jurisdictions to prepare for Industry 4.0, for example by supporting industrial real estate projects that will facilitate its expansion. Here are four good arguments for countries to welcome Industry 4.0 and accelerate public participation in the movement. 

Provide advantages in local production activities of high value

The best incentive for nations to bolster their local innovation systems in preparation for Industry 4.0 is the additional push it will give their high-value industries—not just in areas considered industrial hubs, but also in rapidly developing localities. Thailand, which boasts some of the strongest industrial growth in Asia, has already set a precedent for other countries in the Southeast Asian region through its Thailand 4.0 and Eastern Economic Corridor initiatives for startups and other tech outfits in its eastern provinces. 

As stakeholders may be able to glean from Thailand’s example, investing in data centres, logistics hubs, robotics-equipped manufacturing facilities, and other such provisions to ready local companies for Industry 4.0 will likely have a significant payoff in the long term. There’s a chance that high-value production will no longer be concentrated in just one or two areas of the country or in its primary city, and will instead become widespread thanks to the comprehensive push towards 4IR readiness. 

It forces positive restructure of the labour economy

Detractors of Industry 4.0 are mostly fearful of the ways that it can transform the labour economy. While shifting to the 4IR paradigm for production is not without its risks, and will for certain require a lot from its key investors, the overall transformation may have long-lasting positive effects. 

One scenario that involves the manufacturing sector is the gradual reliance on high-powered machines for rote and physically intensive tasks. Widespread adoption of such machinery, as well the smart and interconnected technologies that support them, may pave the way for work arrangements that are more efficient for manufacturing companies but also less dangerous and exhausting on their human staff. It will then be possible for more skilled workers to take charge of duties where the human element is key, like decision-making, quality management, and stakeholder relations. 

In the context of 4IR, it’s important to remember that machines and information technology cannot and should not replace the work done by humans. Instead, they should supplement human creativity and resourcefulness and amplify these values to their full potential. 

You participate in the global digital economy

Investing in 4IR readiness will do more than improve local industries’ chances of succeeding at home. Proper Industry 4.0 infrastructure will also make them more competitive on the world stage. With technologies that can help local companies transcend borders, time zones, and other obstacles to doing business, there’s more opportunity to tap into international markets and stand toe to toe with global peers. 

Thanks to the investment in 4IR, various sectors will be able to get a taste of international growth. But there’s a lot of promise in store for the automotive, manufacturing, IT, and logistics industries in particular. Business leaders with interests in these sectors should keep abreast of their home country’s Industry 4.0 innovation plans. 

Smarter and more energy-efficient production

Lastly, the shift towards Industry 4.0 will help countries imagine what their production environments can be like if they could be smarter and less resource-heavy. Smart innovations will pave the way for smarter workforces, which are more precise and more efficient with the energy they consume. 

By its very nature, the 4IR mindset also challenges participants to utilize limited physical resources and see what can be done online, through modern digital technology. That means completing big business endeavours from just a few central facilities instead of multiple physical locations, and therefore decreasing local industries’ environmental footprints. 

Once upon a time, businesses thought it impossible to fulfil key business objectives without consuming large amounts of physical space and energy. But as we come closer to the full materialization of 4IR, that is quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. 

Key takeaways

Just like the revolutions that preceded it, Industry 4.0 will not suddenly transform the world overnight. It will take years for the rest of the global population to get up to speed with 4IR’s frontrunners. Moreover, any country that wants to adopt its own 4IR strategy will need to roll out exhaustive education, training, and investment campaigns to warm people up to the idea and to prepare them for the transition in earnest. 

Still, given how quickly and decisively our technologies are evolving, our world seems poised to get into the rhythm of Industry 4.0. Stay up to date about the 4IR initiatives that are happening in your country and make it a point to learn how they will affect your home industry.