The first industrial revolution began in England in the 18th century, propelled by the invention of the steam engine, starting the transformation of agrarian economies to mechanized manufacturing economies. The second industrial revolution occurred in the U.S. between 1870 and 1914, leveraging inventions such as electrically powered equipment, steamboats and railroads to open new markets and link distant communities together through cost-effective, reliable delivery of goods over long distances. Many believe we are still in the midst of the third industrial revolution, beginning in the 1950’s, employing electronics and information technology to automate production. With all the wonders and advancements of digital technology, what further advancements could herald a fourth industrial revolution?

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are physical systems that contain and are controlled and monitored by computer algorithms and linked through computer networks such as the Internet. As such, Cyber-Physical devices, referred to colloquially as “Things” have the capability to sense and learn about their environment, and increasingly take independent action to achieve a goal through physical actuators, all without human intervention.

How do Cyber-Physical Systems create a fourth industrial revolution?

One could argue that a properly implemented Smart Electrical Grid represents a fourth industrial revolution cyber-physical system. A Smart Grid is comprised of electrical power generation, management , distribution and monitoring / metering equipment.
Standard electric grids have some measure of automatic behavior using mechanical devices such as reclosers and circuit breakers to automatically break circuits when a fault occurs. When a fault does occur, typically a truck with highly trained technicians is dispatched to the site of the fault and a manual process begins to analyze the cause of the fault, correct it , and restore power flow.

In contrast, a Smart Grid embeds networked, computerized sensors and actuators at every significant stage of power delivery. These sensors continuously monitor changes in system state and when a fault is detected, follow a predetermined set of rules, an algorithm, to communicate the fault data to nearby and distant networked sensor / actuator devices , and leverage the current state knowledge of this network to devise and implement an automatic recovery plan. Once the fault is localized, actuators such as circuit breakers are opened and closed to isolate the fault from the rest of the network, re-route electric flow around the fault, and restore service for customers. This process occurs within seconds or quicker, often without power customers realizing a fault has occurred.

Transforming the restoration of electrical service interruptions from an hours, days, or longer manual and expensive labor-intensive process to a nearly instantaneous, imperceptible and automatic process through Smart Grid technology is an advancement worthy of the moniker “fourth industrial revolution”.

Cyber-Physical System design principles are typically discussed in terms of Smart Grid and Smart Manufacturing use-case scenarios as the benefits of applying such approaches are readily apparent.

However, and perhaps even more exciting, is the notion of applying CPS principles to challenges in other scenarios which may not initially come to mind.

What if, as a Manufacturer, every pallet or container of product you produce is able to sense its location, temperature and humidity conditions, and whether a severe bump or drop has just occurred? “Smart Pallets” bring the fourth industrial revolution to distribution and supply chains by sensing location, movement and environmental conditions and acting upon predetermined rules at the pallet level , such as automatically reporting when a pallet leaves or enters a geographic area to trigger an appropriate business process.

For example, a mis-routed pallet loaded on the incorrect truck will detect this process error and communicate its location to the network, enabling corrective action such as stopping a truck, or scheduling a corrective transfer at the next stop of the truck to occur.

What if a pallet could detect if it has been unloaded, and communicate to the network its location and readiness for pickup?

What if groupings of pallets forming a shipment were able to actively track that each pallet in the group is loaded on the same truck, and automatically report when one of the pallets is missing, before a truck leaves a distribution center?

Securent Solutions’ IIoT Platform offering brings the fourth industrial revolution to your business process by eliminating the high cost and complexity of making your Things “Smart”.

Contact Securent today at to start your own fourth industrial revolution!

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