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The four industrial revolutions: (1) Mechanization through water and steam power. (2) Mass production and assembly lines powered by electricity. (3) Computerization and automation. (4) Smart factories and cyber-physical systems.

If you’ve been to a trade show or read an op-ed on manufacturing in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen the terms ‘Industry 4.0’ and ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Depending on whom you ask, these connote a fundamental shift in the global manufacturing sector or empty buzzwords dreamt up by marketers and PR firms. Not surprisingly, the truth lies somewhere in between.

“Every now and again, there’s some fundamental shift that happens, then becomes a trend and eventually becomes mainstream. That’s how we got to mechanization and mass production, and now computers and automation. We’re seeing a transition from having machines with computers in isolation to machines with on-board computers that are communicating or being controlled from other computers. And it’s not something that happens overnight—obviously it’s something that has gradually come about as devices have become more connected.”

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