Very recently, Microsoft showcased three dimensional holograms of Volvo’s latest luxury sedan by converting their conference center into a Volvo showroom. Not by actually physically building it, but by using their HoloLense they brought the showroom to life in Redmond. This is the latest in the reality of “mixed reality” where the audience got under the skin of the vehicle, without it being physically present. This might sound straight out of a science fiction movie of the yesteryears, but Industry 4.0 is fast becoming the way the world is going to live.
While technology is enabling innovation of new products, customer preferences are also changing, requiring radically different solutions. In the US, fewer urban youth are buying a vehicle, preferring public transport over the trouble of driving and expense of maintaining a vehicle. Equally, people want to be able to use their travel time more productively than spend it driving. In the backdrop of this new reality mobility solutions might undergo disruptive changes, driverless vehicles being only one of them. Google’s automated cars have already clocked in a million plus miles on public roads. Scanner assisted braking, pedestrian detection sensors, parallel parking support, lane departure warnings, and other complex driver assistance systems are making driverless cars learn to drive.
Set off by advances in computing and information and communication technology (ICT) in the late 20th century, today I see Industry 4.0 fast getting integrated into our daily lives and business operations. In my numerous visits to the west and engagements over the past couple of years I have seen symbols of the mega trend spring up in various places. However, it was Hannover Messe Fair held earlier this year, where I saw notion of Industry 4.0 come alive. There is no doubt in my mind that digital is the new reality.
Industry 4.0 is driven by technologies such as machine intelligence, the ubiquitous web, augmented reality, additive manufacturing (3D Printing) and advanced robotics – capable of delivering many remarkable innovations: unmanned vehicles; pilotless drones; machines that can instantly translate hundreds of languages; mobile technology to name a few. A new breed of vehicles and a re-structured global supply chain are two emerging outcomes of Industry 4.0.
A significant result of this transformation is expected to be a far higher level of industry competitiveness and productivity, combined with highly flexible and responsive supply chains. Sensors, machines and IT systems will be connected along the value chain beyond a single enterprise thus increasing efficiency. Going forward, it is likely that every component manufactured will have a certain level of intelligence embedded in it, giving it the capability to communicate with other components in the part so manufactured. Connected cars already come with sensors that collate and anaylse information for course correction.
There is no question that Industry 4.0 is fast gathering steam and it can neither be denied nor ignored. The auto sector has a critical role to play in ensuring that India becomes the centerpiece of Industry 4.0. Leveraging the fusion of the physical and the virtual world into cyber- physical systems strongly requires a collectivity of technologies and an ecosystem ready for such transformation. We have to decide whether we will fall by the wayside or following the example of the telecom sector we will leapfrog the technology.
The capability of players across the value chain to adopt and implement technologies, responsiveness of the infrastructure, availability of skilled resources to manage the smart environment pose a challenge. Possible loss of jobs as an outcome of automation has been an oft voiced concern. The truth is that Industry 4.0 will lead to a realignment. It will create jobs requiring very different skillsets while rendering the current jobs obsolete. The answer to this challenge lies in skilling and reskilling the workforce to be ready to receive the emerging trend.
Industry 4.0 is not a passing phase; it is a reality that is here to stay. We in India’s auto sector would do well in recognizing this reality and being in a state of preparedness for it.
The views expressed are personal.