Industry 4.0 is in its infancy but already I'm feeling tired of it and I suspect I'm not alone. Pick up any trade magazine, or go online to read a blog and you risk being stampeded by Industry 4.0 "experts" all vying for pole position in the race to explain what it actually is.
This problem is that many of these experts fall back too easily into "tech" speak, using phrases like "machine to machine communication" or "the Internet of things" or "cyber physical systems", "big data" and "connectivity".
All of these terms are fantastically vague and usually leave the reader scratching their head with a bemused look on their face.
Aware that they are losing their audience, their next tactic is to try and explain it in Layman's language. It usually goes something like this: "You Mr Production Director, will be able to lie in bed and switch on that lathe, pump, fan, motor or drive using your laptop or iPhone. What about that then?"
The problem is that most Production Engineers and Operations Directors are very pragmatic people who don't want to lie in bed but do want answers to two key questions, namely what is it and what can it do for me?
Well, if you Google "Industry 4.0" you will find out that it is, apparently, the fourth industrial revolution, the first three being the use of steam in production processes in the 18th Century, mass production in the early 20th Century and our current revolution, the use of computers and electronics.
That all sounds a bit hyperbolic when in reality it is a German government initiative, in partnership with a number of major German industrial organisations, which promotes the further computerisation of manufacturing industry. The goal is to produce smarter factories which are more resource efficient, more productive and more competitive in a globalised economy.
Everyone keeping up? Good, then I'll continue. The best explanation I have read so far is that everything from your wastewater pumps, through to your horizontal machining centre and factory heating system will be connected to a netword which is constantly monitoring, analysing and storing data.
Not only that, it wil then act upon that data, so that if the ambient temperature gets too high in your factory, for example, which has the potential to affect the accuracy of a finished product coming off a lathe, the system will recognise the problem and deploy countermeasures to deal with it.
So, should Production Directors be marching into work today and demanding greater connectivity in order that their ceiling fans can talk to their milking machines?
In short, no, at least not yet. The truth of the matter is that Industry 4.0 is going to be a decade-long journey or more. The groundwork is being done as we speak to create the digital platforms, protocols and connections that will enable us to create the smart factories of the future, but we aren't there yet.