Industry 4.0 – how to anticipate the future

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Trends are always welcome in industry even though I maintain that we must constantly innovate to anticipate the trends. It takes a lot to establish a trend that might be important as regards getting good results for the manufacturing system.It was so a few years ago with the relocation of some industries out of Europe to other parts of the world (and how I really disliked that trend!); it was so with Europe’s reindustrialisation (which I greatly welcomed!); and so it is now with the Industry 4.0 revolution.I have faith in this trend. But I have even more faith in the companies that are already ahead of the challenge and are preparing the future for industry in Europe.

This “new” concept of Industry 4.0 is based, as we all know, on the notion created by German industry, focused at that time (2013) on establishing priority areas for R&D in the manufacturing industry (mainly the automobile industry, some say…). And the idea was to lead the trends towards a new type of industrialisation, focused on the machinery, production tools and industrial processes with obvious consequences on working methods and procedures, production lines, market strategies and (in my view) above all, the skills and human resources needed to embrace the huge challenge.

This specific factor is absolutely critical to the future and success of manufacturing in Europe. And I would like to draw the attention of the Member States and particularly of the EESC, as a consultative body, to the need for a clear strategy regarding the education and training system and a new skills-anticipation process to address the new jobs and careers that will be created with this trend…

There are also two very important issues in this “revolution”. On the one hand, the components evolution (not only the electronic parts and the dimension associated with this – nanotechnologies and so on – but also other parts with multiple digital uses and low costs) and its interaction with other components and computers – the so-called internet of things. This will have huge consequences for production lines and processes.

On the other hand, the constant changes in consumer habits that drive the industry and product customisation to a point we never dreamt of in so many different areas like fashion, automobiles, machines, etc. People want unique products. At the end of the day, I would say that the secret to success in this area will be the combination of these two worlds with solutions that optimise the different “shop-floors” of the industrial units, making the systems more flexible for a faster and more efficient production chain.

Technology is already present in our daily life and the need to combine technologies (available or not) like 3D-printing, the mobile, cloud computing and augmented reality will be the secret to maintaining Europe’s competiveness in a world that is calling for industrial customisation but at the same time, with companies that still need to play a role in mass production. The balance between these two ways will be crucial for Europe and European industrial companies. We are living in interesting and challenging times. Let’s take part in it!

by Gonçalo Lobo Xavier
Member of the Employers' Group
EESC Vice-president for Communication
Association of Portuguese Mechanical and Metallurgical companies