The human race has been in an eternal search for the laws of nature. There came a time when the idea of the atom originated. People like Becquerel, Rutherford, Chadwick, Curie, Einstein, and others studied and tested to better understand the atom until the time came that we knew enough about it that we can use it, for better or worse. The result of this yielded capabilities such as the following:
- Medical imaging
- Cancer treatment
- Identification of chemical compounds
- Identification of the age of artifacts
- Smoke detectors
- Measuring weight of paper
Before the nuclear age, we had ways of doing many of these things. We could put a ream of paper on a scale and measure its weight. What is unique to the nuclear age is not what we can do, but how we do it. Now our Beta gauges, utilizing radioactive sources, can scan the sheet while the machine is running and give us a continuous online measurement of weight. The nuclear age gave use a new environment to live in with its benefits and caveats. The common attribute for products of the nuclear age is that they apply our understanding of the atom to give us these capabilities. Therefore, we can contrast these two eras as follows:
Pre-Nuclear (Does not apply the behavior of the atom)
No nuclear waste, rely on prior technology and power sources, unable to perform some medical diagnostics and treatments.
Nuclear (Applies our understanding of the atom)
Nuclear weapons, nuclear waste, nuclear energy, carbon dating, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), radiopharmaceuticals, medical imaging, smoke detectors, beta gauges, etc.
To be clear, if you were transported back in time and had to figure out what era you are in, you would not figure that out by measuring the weight of a ream of paper. You would see if radioactive isotopes are being used to measure it. If so, you are in the nuclear age.
Just as the nuclear era was an inflection point in how the world works, Industry 4.0 is an inflection point in how industry works. We have a new industrial environment. What is puzzling is how hard it is to define what that inflection point is.
In prior articles, I have explained the Industry 4.0 Lexicon project I am leading. We are going through a Beta release right now, and I am getting some interesting feedback. What seems to be the biggest obstacle is a common understanding of what Industry 4.0 is, and more generally what the industrial eras are. It appears to me the core problem is that there is inconsistency in how we compare things.
At the risk of overdoing it, I am now going to try a geographical analogy.
I will assume many of you have been to the Grand Canyon or at least you have seen photos of it. The geological features of the Grand Canyon show obvious distinctions in the strata of rock. It is not obvious by looking at these layers which time period they represent, but clearly you can see they are different due to their color. The color is a result of what is in it. For example, the Hermit Shales layer is red due to the content of iron, and the Coconino Sandstone on top of it is a creamy (golden white) layer due to its quartz content. During these different periods, there were different life forms that came along and thrived in the new environment. There are long and complicated explanations of how the iron got into the Hermit layer and the quartz got into the Coconino layer, and there are many other things that happened during these periods, but the distinguishing attributes of each layer come down to the following:
Coconino Sandstone (Quartz)
Lizards, millipedes, scorpions
Hermit Shales (Iron)
Winged insects, reptiles, cone-bearing plants, ferns
If you were a geologist and were color blind, you could still tell which rock came from which era by looking at its attributes. If you find iron, it is Hermit. If it is quartz, it is Coconino. Regardless of what life forms thrived during these periods or other environmental characteristics, the contents of the rock are the distinguishing attributes that define these eras.
When we try to apply the same manner of categorization to industrial eras, we seem to have consistency until recently. The feedback we are receiving from the Beta release seems to suggest a lot of people see the industrial eras as follows:
Industry 0 (Muscle)
Industry was powered by humans, animals.
Industry 1 (Steam)
The piston engine of Newcomen, Leopold and Watt replaced muscle power with steam.
Industry 2 (Electricity)
Edison and Tesla provided the means of harnessing electrical power for industrial use.
Industry 3 (Computers)
Digital converters and processors enabled automation of human activities in industry (DCS, SCADA, etc.).
Industry 4 (Internet connectivity, using the cloud, embracing the latest technology, cheap and fast computing, data analysis and communications, sophisticated sensors and transmitters, wireless, sophisticated networking technology, security, open standards, exponential growth, much more)
What does it all mean?
We'll pick up here next month!