Bracing for the era of connectivity

January 29, 2017 | 14:00
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Innovations have come to be commonplace, measured in every phone upgrade. But what will happen when truly disruptive technologies make their way to the market, and change how we work and live? Vo Quang Hue, managing director at Bosch Vietnam, explains how the fourth industrial revolution is set to change everything.

The number of users connected to the internet has been increasing exponentially. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be seven billion users and 70 billion devices, as well as products like smartphones, laptops, cars, electronics, home and public appliances, transportation technology, devices in factories, and products in the manufacturing process - all of them able to connect with one another.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID), wireless and non-wireless sensors, 3D printing, cloud computing, online robots, proprietary software, and big data are all foundational technologies of the Internet of Things (IoT) era. Solutions from the “connected world” and the IoT are and will continue to define and strongly alter governmental and administrative processes as well as value chains in all types of industries, and even in our lives. In other words, the IoT will create new opportunities, and help create new business models and more innovation in the future.

For consumers, a wide range of devices, applications, and services which are “smart” and technologically advanced will improve our convenience and safety in life. New technologies such as automated driving, smart houses, and smart cities will include traffic management and smart parking lots, systems for predicting and preventing floods, and solutions to detect risk or security threats through cameras and data analysis. There will also be a range of other applications that satisfy the needs of service, healthcare, entertainment, and everything inhabitants need or desire. A corollary to this is that apps, services, business models, and careers which are no longer suitable will be eliminated by our society faster than ever.

One of the most significant changes in the IoT era is “Industry 4.0” - the world’s fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 currently is and will continue to create influential changes in the global economy. With Industry 4.0, devices as well as a part or full value chain of production in factories around the world may be connected through the internet by sensors.

Furthermore, each and every product being manufactured can be detected and connected through the Internet. Thus, machinery, products that are being manufactured, as well as employees (workers, technicians, and managers) will be able to continuously interact and implement changes that will improve the productivity, efficiency, and quality of their products. The information stated above will be updated, stored, and analysed consecutively. With the use of Industry 4.0, product orders will be able to identify the appropriate production location, process, and estimated production time in order to maximise costs, quality, and delivery method.

On the other hand, data will hold important inputs for developmental research and development of new product lines with suitable designs and materials to further satisfy customer expectations for function, technology, quality, design, delivery time, and price.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, €40 billion ($42.35 million) will be invested on the R&D of Industry 4.0 through 2020. It is estimated that 80 per cent of companies and factories in Germany will be completely digitalised. Experts believe that this will improve efficiency by about 18 per cent and decrease costs by about 13 per cent.

These impacts are extremely significant, as German industry is already known to drive one of the world’s most powerful economies, and have state-of-the-art technology and high efficiency. In Industry 4.0, there will be new products, services, as well as business models introduced. In fact, experts even believe that Industry 4.0 will contribute as much as €500 billion ($529.4 billion) to Germany’s GDP through 2020.

Although it won’t be easy for us to predict the multitude of changes in the future, Industry 4.0 undeniably will quickly develop and redefine the whole value chain from R&D to event production, logistics, and customer service.

Despite this, the ultimate challenges will be in data security and human capital around the world.

Each and every business, as well as the nations that contain them, will have to continue to develop education in order to generate a skilled workforce. These new-generation workers will need both soft and hard skills, proper technical competencies, language skills, and a professional and positive working attitude in order to conform to the changes that Industry 4.0 will bring.

Workers in factories in the Industry 4.0 era will be faced with working environments and responsibility much different to what we have today. Thus, certain “outdated” jobs and training programmes will be replaced, due to the changes in the manufacturing process of businesses, countries, regions, and the world collectively.

It is expected that automation technology will continue to impact manufacturing plants, such as the textile, clothing, and shoe manufacturing industries. The risk of unemployment by the Vietnamese workforce in this sector is significantly high.

Predicting the changes in the future and implementing apt strategies for the development of agriculture, industry, services, the economy, and the workforce in the age of IoT and Industry 4.0 are undeniably a significant challenge. And how governments, businesses, research centres, and educational institutes are going to adapt to the challenges ahead is another question that has yet to be answered.

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