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Canadian Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, Explained

3 min read2023-04-04
Teresa Nykilchuk

Academics, consultants, and marketing professionals love a buzzword. Buzzwords help them frame ideas in order to sound authoritative and innovative. They try their best to promote sexy-sounding concepts to wow and dazzle their audience. Concepts like “Industry 4.0”.

As someone who endured years of talk about Web 2.0, I was eager to explore this new paradigm — it’s two versions ahead of Web 2.0, so it must be pretty special! I found that Industry 4.0 was originally conceived around 2011-2013 before being popularized by Davos leader Klaus Schwab at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Over the next two years, its arrival on the scene spurred a flurry of thinkpieces and microsites from the likes of PwC and BDC. And then? Not much! Outside of sales-focused articles from component suppliers, there are fewer and fewer resources exploring Industry 4.0 concepts.

If the term Industry 4.0 passed you by, don’t worry; you still know what it’s about. In short, Industry 4.0 is the overarching term for the increasing pervasiveness of digital technology in manufacturing. I’m talking about concepts such as cloud computing, big data, and robotics. It takes the initial automation of the manufacturing process that happened through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and pushes it even further: sensors that report data to autonomous robots capable of making independent decisions about the process they oversee.

So as we are coming up on a decade of this revolution, why hasn’t it felt more revolutionary? After all, in 2016, PwC reported that 51% of Canadian manufacturing businesses “expect to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020”. We come back to the pragmatic and sensible nature of those trained to design and build robust, repeatable processes — everything was too new, unproven, and risky. Retooling an entire operation to embrace every pillar of Industry 4.0 would be highly disruptive.

So instead, companies are taking a bit-by-bit approach, connecting individual machines to a collective data platform, and analyzing performance data to see where processes can be optimized. They are experimenting with prototyping or production through 3D printing and developing products ready to be part of the Internet of Things (IoT). It takes time for these paradigm shifts to filter their way through all businesses, big and small. If you don’t believe me, think of all the Web 1.0 sites you’ve come across while we are starting to talk about Web 3.0?

So why is a strategist at an industrial marketing agency talking about Industry 4.0?

  1. Because I am a geek who loves technology.
  2. Industry 4.0 will extend right from how you make things to how you sell stuff in many different ways.

This connects to my other technology passion, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and how to personalize your sales and marketing based on data-driven insights.

Digital technology has much power to harness in the drive to stay competitive, be efficient and profitable, and build on the long, proud legacy many manufacturing firms enjoy today.

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