How the Next Industrial Revolution is Shaping the Supply Chain Industry

2020 will go down in history as the link between the outgoing industrial period and the incoming technological age.

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Every year, global business leaders meet in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting. It’s a meeting of the minds, if you will, that brings together some of the preeminent leaders across a variety of sectors. Fortunately, thanks to the power of video communications, it continued this year virtually. 

As speakers discussed the future of their respective industries and how these sectors will move past the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, I couldn't help but think of how this year will propel us into a state of accelerated modernity never experienced before.

The fact of the matter is, the ability to hold video conferencing and virtual events are still part of the waning Third Industrial Revolution. While they are still relatively new, in their current form they are part of a previous era of innovation. 2020 is currently remembered as the year of pestilence, mask-wearing and social distancing, but in many ways, it will go down in history as the link between the outgoing industrial period and the incoming technological age.

Innovation brings about Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Third Industrial Revolution began in the mid-20th Century with the creation and innovation of useful semiconductors, computing power, and toward the dawn of the new millennium, the Internet. But, a Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway, and is taking hold at a faster rate because of the events of 2020 -- technological repositioning in terms of connecting the human worker to the Internet of Things (IoT), enhancing human-machine collaboration and the relentless drive toward digitization symbolize this new phase of work.

Coupled with a stronger emphasis on workplace safety that has been improving ever since the age of unions, corporate responsibility and general efficacy, workplace efficiency has become a byproduct of safety in many ways. Integrating human workers’ day-to-day tasks with smart machines and valuable gadgets protects the worker from injuries and calamities that were common in the Second Industrial Revolution along the assembly line.

Technology for the new era

Technology that puts human workers first, like the use of hands-free wearable technology, can also benefit the safety of workers. Ergonomic workspaces aim to decrease the risk of repetitive strain injury and accidents resulting from fatigue and exhaustion. By removing unnecessary repetitive actions, such as picking up a scanning gun or time-consuming walks across the warehouse, wearable technology can ease the strain on the worker by avoiding extraneous tasks. Merging workers and the IoT combines the positives associated with technology (speed of computing, large databases of information, interconnectivity with workers near and far) and the irreplaceable values of humans (ingenuity, critical thinking along with strategizing and empathy). Digitization allows for many shortcuts to be taken, which gives way for the removal of tedious tasks. That time can then be reinvested into projects elsewhere. This will allow businesses to tap into micro-efficiencies and continue to scale them.

Why the WEF gives hope for this new industrial revolution

Technology augments the human worker’s experience, which by its very nature, gives the worker an upper hand. It’s almost like a super power of sorts -- machines scan, process and do a lot of the dirty work and calculations that humans would otherwise have to accomplish themselves without such a valuable tool. Where former industrial revolutions left behind the worker, this movement brings them to the forefront. It’s a type of worker empowerment that isn't showing any signs of receding in the near future because not only does the worker benefit—the employer does too. And, ultimately, so does the consumer of the product.