Reporting this week from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is the below post jointly written by Stephen Nigro, President, 3D Printing business at HP and Shane Wall, Chief Technology Officer at HP and Global Head of HP Labs. Get all the news from Davos, which continues through January 20th, by following #WEF17.
In the 18th century, it wasn’t clear how the new technologies of water and steam power that were driving early industry would affect the then-largely rural societies of Europe and America. It took about a century before the term “Industrial Revolution” was coined.
By that time, the mechanization of production was well under way, along with the beginnings of a middle class. Meanwhile, the seeds of mass production, which would become the Second Industrial Revolution, were sown. The effects of that electricity-driven transformation — affordable goods and solid assembly-line jobs supporting a secure middle class — would not be fully revealed for decades. Then, in the mid-20th century, electronics and information technology ushered in the Third Industrial Revolution of automation, remaking the world once again. This time, however, the impact was felt within a few years, not decades or centuries.
Today, we are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — and its impact is being felt even before it’s fully under way. This transformation, built on the blending of the physical and digital worlds, will have profound consequences across industries, business, finance and government. That’s why it’s a leading topic at this week’s annual gathering of global leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“One of the features of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it doesn’t change what we are doing, but it changes us,” said Klaus Schwab, executive director of the Davos event.
How will it change your life?
The emergence of immersive commuting
We’re living in a world that’s still experiencing the effects — both good and bad — from the previous industrial revolutions. Our cities are more crowded, globalization has shifted work to the far corners of the planet, and technology has been integrated into every facet of our lives, from social interactions to healthcare.
The next step for technology will be for computing to become immersive, the way energy and water are delivered to us today. Instead of running our lives from PCs on our desks or smartphones in our pockets, we’ll be guided through the day by technology that’s integrated into everyday objects, like the jewelry we wear, the windshields on our cars and even the buildings where we work and play. These devices will not only be useful tools but will also collect data, further powering and fine-tuning artificial intelligence in a virtuous cycle.
The daily route from home to office in a self-driving car, for instance, will be determined autonomously by the vehicle, based on traffic and other data. Time that was once lost to gridlock can be put to better use.
At the office, people will no longer scour through information to make decisions. Instead, artificial intelligence will analyze and synthesize data more efficiently than any human could and present it in more useful ways than on a computer screen. Through virtual reality, an engineer might be transported inside a jet engine to see a problem firsthand. Doctors examining an X-ray will see treatment options layered onto the document through augmented reality — a literal blending of our physical and digital worlds.
The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be even greater behind the scenes of the economy, where the blending of the digital and physical will remake how goods are manufactured and distributed. The digital will become the physical with the touch of a button.
For years, 3D printers have been used to create prototypes and small parts. With the introduction of the HP Jet Fusion 3D printer, physical parts can now be created 10 times faster and half the cost of previous systems. We’re on the path to manufacturing products from digital files that can be transmitted anywhere in the world, allowing goods to flow nearly as efficiently as ideas do today across the internet.
Designers and engineers will be able to work from anywhere, freed from the constraints of traditional manufacturing techniques such as injection molding. Instead, they’ll design products with an unprecedented degree of granularity and precision, making it possible to manufacture goods that simply cannot be made today.
And once those digital files are transmitted, they can be adjusted for local or personal needs before production. For consumers, this technology promises, for the first time, both mass production and mass personalization. Imagine ordering a shoe that’s not just your size but precisely tailored for your feet.
Digitization of manufacturing also promises faster improvement cycles. After all, a digital file is much easier to change than a mold or an assembly line. Shifts in style, demand or functionality will be turned around instantly.
This efficiency of production will create opportunities, too. Manufacturing jobs that had been outsourced will be needed closer to where the final products will be offered, purchased and consumed.
New businesses will be created to support the 3D manufacturing ecosystem. Even in today’s early stages, an open ecosystem is being built to identify sustainable materials from which parts and products will eventually be manufactured. HP is working with partners across multiple industries to find materials to use in digital manufacturing.
Changing the world — for the better
It should be no surprise, then, that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a major theme of this year’s World Economic Forum. The shift from shipping materials and products back and forth around the globe to local sourcing and manufacturing has huge implications for trade, taxation and regulations. What is an export or import when the “product” only exists as digital file? How should it be taxed? What policies need to be invented?
The $12 trillion manufacturing industry and its global supply are likely to be disrupted. The first savings from more local manufacturing, both economic and environmental, will be the 5 percent of the world’s oil supply that now goes to the mere shipment of goods. Products also can be constructed with materials that are reusable after consumption, minimizing waste. And there will be no need to warehouse unsold products if demand declines since they’ll only be built when needed.
Economists describe this change as a decoupling of economic growth from the world’s limited resources. It’s nothing less than the creation of an environmentally friendly future — a historic benefit for all residents of Earth.
The next Industrial Revolution won’t just change the world. It will sustain it.