Towards the fourth industrial revolution

Industry 4.0 (Industry 4.0, i4.0) is a concept originally launched by the German Government, meaning the digital transformation of industry.

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution in which industrial manufacturing and business models change by digitalisation and the use of new technologies. It is an entity involving artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, the Internet of Things, smart sensors, augmented reality, advanced analytics, 3D printing, robotics and automation.

In Industry 4.0, the smart machines and processes in factories become more and more intelligent by making use of the constantly increasing amounts of data. This results in more efficient, flexible, productive and environmentally friendly factories. However, this is not just a question of technology; it is also a question of business and the use of competitive advantages. Industry 4.0 enables completely new ways of offering value to customers. When production becomes flexible, it enables individual and tailored products, allowing the end customer to define their properties when placing their order from their home sofa, using their smart phone. The change in business models will be extensive and far-reaching.

The University of Oulu Micro-Entrepreneurship Centre MicroENTRE® is taking part in developing the digital transformation of industry and studying the phenomenon through the DigiProcess project. DigiProcess is an Interreg Nord EU project aimed at supporting the Finnish and Swedish process industries in building their digital ecosystems. A key measure in the project is to support cooperation between the process industry and SME suppliers, and to help micro, small and medium-sized suppliers better meet the needs of their partners in the process industry. Through the sector-specific workshops organised by the project, industrial companies can highlight their Industry 4.0 plans and development needs, which can also open up business opportunities for smaller service providers. Similarly, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises will have the opportunity to present their own advanced digital services and network with large companies operating in the forest, steel, ICT or mining industry.

The project will also create new, researched information on the transformation of Finnish industry, Industry 4.0. According to preliminary research results, as the process industry focuses on its core competence, there is potential for business cooperation with suppliers offering advanced digital solutions. Solutions are needed in areas such as:

  • Data management and analysis
  • Virtual reality
  • Sensors and foresight
  • Robotics
  • Automation

Optimising production processes and maintaining quality, avoiding unexpected downtime in production, proactive maintenance and the use of maintenance data are typical practical needs that are currently emerging in the digital transformation of the Finnish process industry. As we know, export revenue from Finland’s foreign trade has been strongly based on large industrial companies. The international competitiveness of these leading companies in Industry 4.0 will thus be a significant factor in the national economy. Innovative micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises also play an important role in this task, and have their own opportunities for internationalisation.

Author: Martti Saarela, PhD, M. of Laws, MSc (Econ.), Development Manager, Micro-Entrepreneurship Centre MicroENTRE®
Image: Pexels / Pixabay

Read more about the DigiProcess project