The term “fourth industrial revolution” is gaining wider acceptance as a useful term to refer to a ground-breaking process that will change the way we think about products, services, and engineering design itself.
Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating topic and get a glimpse into the exciting tools that engineering designers will have at their disposal very soon.
Many Industrial Revolutions
You may already be familiar with the term “industrial revolution”, the process that began in 19th century England and ushered in the world as we know it. Historians have identified in total three separate industrial revolutions:
- 1stindustrial revolution (18th to 19th centuries). Production transitions from artisanal methods to machines powered by water and steam.
- 2ndindustrial revolution (19th to 20th centuries). The telegraph and the railroad accelerate communications and transportations, respectively.
- 3rdindustrial revolution (late 20th century-today). Personal computers automate production and create a global network of instant communication (the internet).
The notion of a “fourth industrial revolution” first became popular thanks to a 2015 article by Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. But what is the fourth industrial revolution (or 4IR), exactly?
What Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
While the previous industrial revolutions accelerated certain processes (manufacture, transportation, and communication), the fundamental change brought about by the fourth industrial revolution is a fusion of the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent,” Schwab explains. “When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”
If this sounds too abstract, maybe a couple of examples can help. Think of “smart” crops that activate irrigation automatically or let farmers know when they’re ready for harvest. Imagine being able to “print” any solid object, from a fork to a house, using only your smartphone and a dedicated app.
What Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution Mean for Engineering Designers?
As we explained in a previous post, engineering design can be defined as “the organized development and testing (through the use of creativity as well as mathematical and scientific knowledge) of products and processes that perform a desired function within specified limits.”
The fourth industrial revolution will radically alter the way we interact we products, and engineering design will have to evolve accordingly.
Experts have identified a handful of technologies that will be key to the fourth industrial revolution. Some of the most relevant to engineering design include:
- Autonomous vehicles: Self-driving trucks will reduce costs and simplify warehouse stocking/management.
- 3-D printing: Designers will be able to create prototypes more easily and conveniently, accelerating many crucial processes (design, repairs, maintenance, etc.)
- Internet of things/cloud: Designers and users will have to rethink their entire relationship with the tools and products they use. Gleaning and analyzing data in real time about placement, usage, and performance will become commonplace.
Learn More About Engineering Design
This discipline is an exciting field with myriad real-world applications. Below are some previous posts you can read to keep exploring:
- How is engineering design different from other types of design?
- A basic glossary of engineering design: part 1and part 2
- Engineering design for children: 5 useful benefits
- What is the engineering design process?
- The amazing history behind Roman bridges
- What is a Gantt chart?
Darnell Technical Services is an engineering design firm with extensive experience in a vast array of projects.
Our headquarters are located in Santa Ana, California, and we have an office in Las Vegas, Nevada. Contact us today by telephone (714-285-0082 (CA), 702-945-2899 (NV)) or through our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about all the technical instruments and materials we put at your disposal.