“Industry 4.0” – the term coined in Germany in 2011 to describe technology that fits into the design principles of interconnectivity, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralised decisions, has become synonymous with technical developments in manufacturing. The effects of the technology go far beyond just the factory floor however. This article reviews what Industry 4.0 is, what it means for composites, and how far technology has already come in the sector. The topic is complex and wide ranging, and each sub-topic discussed could individually fill an article, however this article seeks to give a top-level introduction. To start with, “Industry 4.0” should be defined. As with many buzzwords in recent times, “Industry 4.0” is something of a portmanteau for the fourth industrial revolution. For context, the previous three industrial revolutions describe: mechanisation, electrification and automation.

Alongside the manufacturing improvements, these industrial revolutions brought about hugely disruptive changes to everyday life. Mechanisation began in the 18th and 19th Century where steam and water power was harnessed to run vast factories. Operatives were required to run these factories, so populations changed from primarily agrarian to metropolitan. As a relevant side note, the primary product that these factories created were textiles, technology that is still used today in the production of fabrics made from advanced fibre.

The introduction of electricity drove development of modern production line techniques, but it also improved living conditions of populations, providing safer, cleaner lighting and heating amongst others. The third industrial revolution was marked by the implementation of computers, leading to automation. Outside of manufacturing, computers revolutionised all parts of life, both business and personal. Now, as outlined by the World Economic Forum, the fourth industrial revolution is bringing about unprecedented levels of connectivity in everyday life. The cultural change we have seen over the last decade from this technology is often missed. The On-Demand Economy is an example of this, which is defined as the economics brought about by technology being able fulfil demand immediately. There are many examples of this, such as being able to order takeaway, bank, watch whole seasons of TV programmes, all immediately from apps on a mobile device. All these things were not possible just 10 years ago.

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