AS early as the 6th century BC, Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted this certainty: the only constant thing in the world is change.
Since then, the world has undergone tremendous changes.
Today, it has segued into yet another monumental era – the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, the name given to the latest evolution in the digitisation and automation of manufacturing processes.
It incorporates advanced sensors, machine-to-machine communication links, 3-D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and cloud computing technology.
These cyber-physical platforms monitor factory processes and make decentralised, self-governing decisions, leading to “intelligent” or “smart” factories.
Industry 4.0 covers the entire value chain, including suppliers, procurement, design, logistics and even sales, resulting in higher productivity and flexibility.
There is less wastage or storage, better monitoring and maintenance of machinery, and improved security and safety.
The first industrial revolution started in the late 18th century with the shift from human or animal power to machines run by water or steam.
The second occurred between 1870 to 1914 with the introduction of electricity, and the rise of the steel and oil industries, triggering the era of mass production of goods and vehicles.
The third significant shift began in the 1960s with the entry of the first programmable logistic controllers and early versions of computers, boosting automation and control of production lines.
This spurred the extensive use of computer networks, and the eventual birth of the Internet changed the world in ways that no one could have imagined.
Industry 4.0 is a German strategic initiative mooted in 2011 under its High-Tech Strategy 2020 and adopted two years later.
It is aimed at revolutionising the manufacturing industry, by switching from centralised to decentralised networks under which connected equipment and devices communicate with each other to analyse and respond to information received.
In the United States, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) is used for networks of computers, scanners and other devices collecting and dispensing information to end-users in homes and companies.
Application of the IoT in manufacturing is referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things, or just Industrial Internet.
In Britain, the preferred reference is Fourth Industrial Revolution, while in Russia, it is “Advanced Manufacturing”.
China has its “Made in China 2025”, which has a broader scope to bridge the gaps and uneven matches between the quality and efficiency of its rising number of manufacturers.
There is much confusion over these interconnected terms. What is clear, though, is the global acceptance of this significant technological advance.
Sadly, Malaysia has been rather slow to embrace it, compared with Vietnam or Thailand which already have Industry 4.0 policy frameworks.
The Malaysian Government is still in the process of formulating the National Industry 4.0 Blueprint, which is expected to be ready before the end of 2017.
The cost of adopting Industry 4.0 is the main reason for small and medium industries’ hesitance.
Many prefer to keep their foreign workers, rather than to invest in automation and IT.
As a result, Malaysia is regarded as stuck at the level of Industry 3.0 in terms of manufacturing technology.
In May, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan said 65% of jobs in Malaysia could be lost because of technological advancements.
“We are unable to catch our breath because the world is moving at a fast pace with the digital economy,” he was quoted as saying.
According to Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) chief executive Datuk C. M. Vignaesvaran Jeyandran, most of the 15 million Malaysian workers in the private sector need to be upskilled or trained to be multi-skilled to meet requirements under the increasing digitalisation of workplaces.
Although the need to train the workforce is obvious, so far only two million workers of HDRF-registered firms have benefited from the agency’s training initiatives, such as the Industry Based Certification Programme.
Over the next three years, HRDF is expected to spend RM203mil for training programmes in ICT adoption, big data, empowerment of women and development of digital talent for industries.
With the rapid changes taking place, a massive change in the education system is crucial. Based on 2015 figures, only half of Malaysian graduates are employed after leaving university, while a quarter remain jobless for six months or more.
Among the main reasons for this is the huge disparity between what is learnt and the skills needed by employers.
The education system must be in line with a world that is facing swift, exponential change primarily driven by technological innovation.
Part of the problem is awareness. Outside of the manufacturing industry, there is not much buzz about Industry 4.0, although it will impact everyone, not just industries and businesses.
There is not enough coverage of it in the media too, except in the business pages.
To help change the mindset, the National Press Club, Malaysia, is organising a seven-day Industry 4.0 and Digitalisation Study Programme in Germany in collaboration with HDRF, human capital solutions provider K-Pintar Sdn Bhd and the European School of Management and Technology based in Berlin.
The first batch, comprising 25 members of the media, will be exposed next week to the technological changes through a combination of classroom sessions and hands-on visits to companies adopting Industry 4.0 systems.