What is the 4th Industrial Revolution?

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The 4th industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, was all the talk at the recent World Economic Forum Davos Summit. EEF also looked at this topic as part of our National Manufacturing Conference last year.

Manufacturing is undergoing a transformation to the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) – but what is it? In short, greater integration of digital technologies with the physical production process.

3 core components to 4th Industrial Revolution

Depending on who you speak to there are 3 key components:

  1. The Industrial Internet of Things (Internet of Things = everything embedded with sensors that collect and share data with each other).
  2. Big Data and real time data analysis
  3. Secure digital infrastructure to support and trust autonomy


Various buzzwords exist in this space that all link up to create Smart(er) Factories.

Thinking just about the transformation within the production process the main thing you need to remember is:

Batch Size 1

This is the ambition of the 4th industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0), in short the ability to create the unique and highly customised products that was the norm before the industrial revolution (Industry 0?). But, doing so with the speed, scale and crucially efficiency of the modern production process.




This would do away with the need for mass production, huge inventories of stock or pre-programmed and scheduled production.

I’ll try and break this down with a massive wall of text to simulate the data tsunami that will be unleashed:


Multi-purpose production lines will be equipped with fully autonomous and multi-purpose robots and other equipment, connected to the internet and embedded with sensors and on board analytics that will allow mid-production changes to product specifications without the need to reset production lines.

These product changes will be brought about by real time decision making based on data collected from customers in terms of how the products are used in the real world, information shared by the supply chain and other external providers. Alongside this big data analysis of the production process will ensure continuous efficiency improvements.

Oh and faster 3D printers may mean you can order something at lunchtime and pick it up on the way home (or even have it delivered by drone?), while dropping off another product to be remanufactured as part of the circular economy.


If that gave you a headache, don’t worry. If this works well, you shouldn’t even notice.

Digital infrastructure will underpin all of this

What will underpin all of this is high quality digital infrastructure networks that are fast, reliable and secure.

Previous EEF surveys have shown that broadband networks are the 2nd most important infrastructure network for investment.

On Monday we’ll take a look at how the UK is shaping up as a location for the 4th industrial revolution. We’ll be publishing the results of our survey of members on their use of digital technologies and their view on the UK’s digital infrastructure.



This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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