Technical advances also change the way humans produce things. The step into production technology, which was completely different from the past, is also called the industrial revolution. The new production technologies fundamentally changed the working conditions and lifestyles of people. What were the industrial revolutions and where do we find ourselves now? “From the First Industrial Revolution to Industry 4.0”
The First Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century through the use of steam power and mechanisation of production. What before produced threads on simple spinning wheels, the mechanised version achieved eight times the volume in the same time. Steam power was already known. The use of it for industrial purposes was the greatest breakthrough for increasing human productivity. Instead of weaving looms powered by muscle, steam-engines could be used for power. Developments such as the steamship or (some 100 years later) the steam-powered locomotive brought about further massive changes because humans and goods could move great distances in fewer hours.
The Second Industrial Revolution began in the 19th century through the discovery of electricity and assembly line production. Henry Ford (1863–1947) took the idea of mass production from a slaughterhouse in Chicago: The pigs hung from conveyor belts and each butcher performed only a part of the task of butchering the animal. Henry Ford carried over these principles into automobile production and drastically altered it in the process. While before one station assembled an entire automobile, now the vehicles were produced in partial steps on the conveyor belt—significantly faster and at lower cost.
The Third Industrial Revolution began in the ’70s in the 20th century through partial automation using memory-programmable controls and computers. Since the introduction of these technologies, we are now able to automate an entire production process—without human assistance. Known examples of this are robots that perform programmed sequences without human intervention.
We are currently implementing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is characterised by the application of information and communication technologies to industry and is also known as “Industry 4.0”. It builds on the developments of the Third Industrial Revolution. Production systems that already have computer technology are expanded by a network connection and have a digital twin on the Internet so to speak. These allow communication with other facilities and the output of information about themselves. This is the next step in production automation. The networking of all systems leads to “cyber-physical production systems” and therefore smart factories, in which production systems, components and people communicate via a network and production is nearly autonomous.