4.0 lights the way

It might sound like the latest software update for your iPhone, but Industry 4.0 is sending shockwaves through manufacturing industries. Mae Losasso speaks to Ian Cronin, project lead for shaping the future of advanced manufacturing and production at the World Economic Forum, Kelly O’Brien, assistant lecturer and researcher at Limerick Institute of Technology, and Amanda Turney at the FDA to fi nd out why it’s here to stay.

ames Watt didn’t invent the steam engine; it was Thomas Newcomen in 1712. Watt just improved it, but it’s his contribution that’s heralded as the dawn of the first industrial revolution. Why? Because Watt made Newcomen’s rudimentary steam process more efficient, efficacious and suitable for industrial use. As any schoolkid will tell you, revolution doesn’t just mean bright ideas, it means their wholesale adoption. It means implementing something so new, so totally, that society gets turned on its head, almost overnight.


The term Industry 4.0, which describes the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), has quietly seeped into tech and manufacturing lingo in recent years. To many, it sounds more like an app update. Before 2020, everybody knew 4.0-associated technologies – AI and machine learning, internet of things (IoT) and data lakes – but not everybody was ready to concede that they amounted to a fourth revolution. Then Covid- 19 hit, sending shockwaves through manufacturing companies the world over. More than just the problems on individual production lines, it exposed the urgent need for greater supply chain integrity. As Amanda Turney, a spokesperson for the FDA, explains, “the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the existing manufacturing structures, with a small number of facilities fed by long and complex supply chains, can be disrupted.” In other words, a production line might be manned by sentient robots, but one weak link in the


supply chain – as far down as the sixth or seventh supplier – and the whole business might go kaput. Ian Cronin, project lead for shaping the future of advanced manufacturing and production at the World Economic Forum (WEF), believes that this has brought about a shift in competitiveness. “In the recent past,” he explains, “a supply chain was designed around cost competitiveness. So, how do I get the highest quality product for the lowest price? What we’ve seen in the past 12 months with Covid is the recognition that this needs to be balanced against risk competitiveness. So, you’re not necessarily eliminating those suppliers, or the parts of your supply chain that have the best cost, you just need to be building some resilience and agility into your supply chain, which will allow you to respond when there is a crisis. It’s the idea of distributed manufacturing models.”

The question remains: how do we achieve these distributed manufacturing models? The answer might just be through the implementation of 4.0 technologies. In early 2021, the FDA teamed up with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in a bid to “increase US medical supply chain resilience and advanced domestic manufacturing of drugs, biological products and medical devices through adoption of 21st century manufacturing technologies”. As Turney notes, “These include smart technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and emerging manufacturing processes.”

World Pharmaceutical Frontiers /


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