Where are you in terms of industrial revolutions? Are you still in the steam age (the first industrial revolution) or implementing cyber-physical systems – now known as the fourth industrial revolution or Industrie 4.0?
The evidence is mounting that logistics professionals are going to have to get to grips with Industrie 4.0 sooner rather than later.
So where does this fourth revolution take over from what has gone before? Well, the second industrial revolution is defined by mass production, and the development of electricity. And the third industrial revolution reflects the development of computers and automation.
While computers are a basic tool for most of us in our professional lives, automation is still the exception rather than the rule in most areas of supply chain activity.
But walking around the National Exhibition Centre at IMHX last month, it was very clear that change is coming very rapidly.
It wasn’t just that the automation specialists had exciting new products on show, it was the fact that equipment manufacturers like Linde, Toyota and Crown were all moving in the direction of automated and semi-automated products.
Linde’s parent company Kion is currently in the process of buying Dematic and already has Egemin in its portfolio.
Kion chief Gordon Riske explained the strategy saying: “The acquisition of Dematic will create a world-leading full-service provider of intelligent material handling solutions addressing all Intralogistics 4.0 requirements.”
A key part of the Industrie 4.0 agenda is the development of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems that communicate and cooperate with each other as well as with humans.
We are starting to see some of the results of this in logistics, most notably in the development of robots.
DHL is currently testing two collaborative robots on co-packing and value-added tasks in its warehouses. The robots, called Baxter and Sawyer, have been working on a number of tasks, including: assembly, kitting, packaging and pre-retail services.
Amazon has its own robotics division and has operational systems in some of its warehouses. There are even tests now taking place of retail delivery robots.
Not many of us want to be at the bleeding edge of the technology, but many of the products on show at the NEC last month were not only proven systems but also affordable, easy to install and flexible in operation.
If you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time to embrace the fourth industrial revolution.