History can always be sliced and diced in different ways. The history of the Civil War can be told focusing on the North, the West (west of the Appalachian Mountains that is) or the East. It can be told focusing on the immigrants who fought in it, the spies who crossed between North and South, or the Generals who directed it. It can be classified, categorized and carved up in an endless variety of ways.
The history of manufacturing and industry is like that too. You could talk about inventions like the water wheel or the spinning jenny or the Francis Turbine. You could talk about people that made it happen from Alexander Graham Bell to Henry Ford to Dick Morley, the father of the PLC.
When I think of the history of manufacturing and industry, I like to think of it in the following sequence:
Pre-Industrial Era – this is the era of the artisan. Energy was available from the water wheel, human power, or draft animals. Most everyone, even those skilled as artisans, farmed for their own needs. Information from any more than a few miles away was passed orally by infrequent travelers. There was trade, but little in the way of ongoing, contractualized international trade.
The 1st Industrial Revolution changed everything. Steam energy and much more advanced hydroelectric power became available. These energy sources powered the cotton gin, automatic textile weavers and steel processing (the Bessemer process). Information traveled orders of magnitude faster along railroads, telegraph lines and telephone lines, enabling vast economic expansion. The powered printing press enabled the wide dissemination of printed contracts and books that spread the ideas of the Industrial Revolution even further. The nature of work itself was transformed. Raw or semi raw labor was replaced with labor that could run machines, though manufacturing was yet to be very organized.
The 2nd Industrial Revolution ushered in mass production and the integrated manufacturing system. The new energy of this age was electricity. AC current enabled the electric motor, radio and television, and indoor and outdoor lighting that conferred the ability to work after dark. Information traveled even faster. Photographs and video could be transferred over satellite from remote locations. Vast industrial concerns were created to deliver specialized goods around the globe.
The 3rd Industrial Revolution was the age of electronic controls, computer controlled manufacturing and digital communication. Electronic logic embedded in a PLC became the standard way to develop machine operating logic. Data became an asset, and the ability to move it became important. Standard networks like RS485, CAN and Ethernet were developed. Protocols like EtherNet/IP, DeviceNet, Profibus and ProfiNet IO were developed to integrate data throughout a manufacturing system.
The 4th Industrial Revolution? That’s the revolution starting now. It’s called the Cyber Physical Systems revolution. It’s the integration of the factory floor into the IT environment. An age of seamless integration between the back office operation and the machines of the factory floor. An age in which machines can discover other machines, are fully integrated with suppliers and customers, and can configure themselves.
Manufacturing systems in the age of CPS are highly flexible and adaptable. They can respond to products, other machines, processes and business information. These systems are based on technologies like Cloud computing, advanced analytics and high speed networks.
These systems require open, secure and highly reliable digital communications; faster, more secure, more reliable and more adaptable than any communication system deployed previously. Only one protocol, OPC UA, meets these needs and it is now the centerpiece of the 4th Industrial Revolution.