Big data, analytics, and machine learning are starting to feel like anonymous business words, but they’re not just overused abstract concepts—those buzzwords represent huge changes in much of the technology we deal with in our daily lives. Some of those changes have been for the better, making our interaction with machines and information more natural and more powerful. Others have helped companies tap into consumers’ relationships, behaviors, locations and innermost thoughts in powerful and often disturbing ways. And the technologies have left a mark on everything from our highways to our homes.
It’s no surprise that the concept of “information about everything” is being aggressively applied to manufacturing contexts. Just as they transformed consumer goods, smart, cheap, sensor-laden devices paired with powerful analytics and algorithms have been changing the industrial world as well over the past decade. The “Internet of Things” has arrived on the factory floor with all the force of a giant electronic Kool-Aid Man exploding through a cinderblock wall.
Tagged as “Industry 4.0,” (hey, at least it’s better than “Internet of Things”), this fourth industrial revolution has been unfolding over the past decade with fits and starts—largely because of the massive cultural and structural differences between the information technology that fuels the change and the “operational technology” that has been at the heart of industrial automation for decades.