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THE MARCH 2021 Shift, published as a supplement to Automotive News, has a most interesting editorial by Leslie J. Allen, Shift Editor. She writes, “I’m not much for buzzwords,” but notes that one keeps cropping up: Industry 4.0, in the sense of the fourth industrial revolution. Here are tidbits gleaned from her editorial, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.
The One in Caps. The first one is honored by its upper case: The Industrial Revolution. As described in Britannica, it’s “the process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing…. Although used earlier by French writers, the term Industrial Revolution was first popularized by the English economic historian Arnold Toynbee (1852–1883) to describe Britain’s economic development from 1760 to 1840. Since Toynbee’s time the term has been more broadly applied.”
The Newcomen Engine. I’m tempted to push the date back from 1760 to 1712 and Thomas Newcomen’s first practical atmospheric engine. This marked the dawn of mechanical power, of extracting energy from natural resources.
The Newcomen engine operated by condensing steam drawn into a cylinder, thereby creating a partial vacuum which allowed atmospheric pressure to push the cylinder’s piston.
Newcomen lived from 1664 to 1729; James Watt perfected a more efficient device, the steam engine, in 1776. Britannica notes “the invention of new machines, such as the spinning jenny and the power loom that permitted increased production with a smaller expenditure of human energy.”
Other inventions of the era were in transportation: the steam locomotive (Richard Trevithick’s Coalbrookdale, 1802; William Hedley’s Puffing Billy, 1813–1814) and the steamship (John Fitch’s Perseverance with side oars, 1787; Robert Fulton’s Clermont paddle-wheeler, 1807; the SS Archimedes with screw propeller, 1839).
Though road locomotion was assayed (Trevithck’s Puffing Devil, 1801), the first automobiles coincided decades later with the development of gasoline internal combustion. The Benz Patent Wagon of 1885-1886 is a noteworthy example.
Industry 2.0. Shift Editor Allen notes, “In the next century, mass production and innovations such as the internal combustion engine marked the dawn of a second industrial revolution.”
Mass production, inaugurated in New England firearms manufacture, arrived with Ransom Olds in 1901 and Henry Ford in 1914. Though Ford’s Model T was introduced in 1908, its real impact was felt in 1914 with his assembly line.
Britannica observes the socioeconomic and cultural changes accompanying an industrial revolution. These changes were profound in Industry 2.0. As one example, Ford’s doubling wages of assembly line employees in 1914 transformed these workers into potential Model T buyers.
Culturally, as noted later by John Steinbeck in his book Cannery Row, 1945, “Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.”
Industry 3.0. “Next,” Allen observes, “came the proliferation of computers, the Internet and the automation of production.” Industry 3.0 is familiar to many of us. We recall when the first computers required air-conditioned isolation and stacks of cards punched in obscure code. Today, we carry more computer power in our cell phones capable of accessing much of the world’s knowledge. Also, through automated production, these handy devices have become more ubiquitous around the world than indoor plumbing.
Industry 4.0. “The fourth industrial revolution,” Allen writes, “is a bit harder to define. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, is credited with coining the phrase at the group’s 2016 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. He defines it this way: ‘It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
Allen cites examples: “… artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cloud computing, and the network of connected sensors known as the ‘Industrial Internet of Things.’ Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is part of it, as are robotics and cybersecurity.” See also “Science and the Ballot.”
What a great time to be around! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021
1.0 took us from agrarian surfdom to industrial surfdom.
2.0 spread the wealth to a larger portion of the population, thereby liberating many from surfdom.
3.0 moved developed societies from physical to knowledge based industries (although the jobs moved offshore to countries that were jumped from agrarian to 2.0), and in many ways the office cubicle has almost become a surfdom of it’s own.
Where 4.0 takes us is still to be determined, but we better figure it out before we venture too far down the path, if we don’t want a Clockwork Orange style dysfunctional world.