January 20-23, 2016 – The Fourth Industrial Revolution was the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how is SyncFab playing a part? The Third Industrial Revolution used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Many refer to Industry 4.0 as cyber-physical systems. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.
Advanced Manufacturing collectively represents cross-applications of 3D Printing (Additive) and Tradtional (Subtractive) Manufacturing, CADCAM, Robotic Automation, Logistics, artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. Synchronized Fabrication or “SyncFab” is a reference to the synchronization of those parts of modern advanced manufacturing making local industry more accessible to innovative small business hardware startups and more sustainable and eco-conscious by extension. Functionally, the SyncFab platform is a growing community marketplace connecting collaborative product developers and small business hardware startups with established local manufacturers.
On the supply side, industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered. Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services. A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process.
On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in the Internet of Things which effectively brings us closer to the cyber-physical system experience.
When digital fabrication is fully enabled in Industry 4.0 there is a lot of discussion about the evolution of careers and the workplace experience to the “Gig Economy.” The advantage of tackling this trend early on at SyncFab is so that we can help to mold it towards an emphasis on local sustainable economies, production practices and material usage.
This will further emphasize the cyper-physical system experience.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination. In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul.
But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.
This article was adapted from the Foreign Affairs
Author: Klaus Schwab is Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum