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Are People Seriously Talking About a Fifth Industrial Revolution?

April 19, 2022


As far as revolutions go, we remain in the infancy of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0). A 2021 survey conducted by PTC found that the Industry 4.0 journey has been completed by fewer than half of the polled organizations.[1] However, the survey also found, “92% of industrial companies are on a [digital transformation] journey” even though less than half (41%) have achieved a full-scale, enterprise-wide rollout of digital technologies. Analysts from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) explain the first three revolutions were driven by steam, electricity, and automation. They write, “Industrial production was transformed by steam power in the nineteenth century, electricity in the early twentieth century, and automation in the 1970s.”[2] The fourth revolution is being driven by data. The World Economic Forum staff explains, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work, and relate to one another. It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second, and third industrial revolutions. These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril.”[3]


In spite of the fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is still ongoing, some experts are already speculating about what comes next (i.e., Industry 5.0). Is a new industrial revolution right around the corner or are we looking at Industry 4.1? What factors must converge to create the conditions for the next revolution?


The Basics of Industry 5.0


From my headline, and the questions asked above, you might detect a hint of skepticism on my part concerning the emergence of a new industrial revolution. For something to be called a revolution, it must entail “a complete or marked change in something.”[4] As I read about what people are calling Industry 5.0, I see evolution more than revolution. Decide for yourself. The staff at Nexus Integra writes, “Industry 5.0 is a new production model where the focus lies on the interaction between humans and machines. The previous tier, Industry 4.0, emerged with the arrival of automation technologies, IoT and the smart factory. Industry 5.0 takes the next step, which involves leveraging the collaboration between increasingly powerful and accurate machinery and the unique creative potential of the human being. … In Industry 4.0, the goal has been to minimize human involvement and prioritize process automation. To a certain extent, humans have been set in a position where they competed against machines, casting the former aside in a myriad of scenarios.”[5]


Freelance writer Marilyn de Villiers agrees that human/machine collaboration will be the most prominent characteristic of Industry 5.0. She writes, “Industry 5.0 is at hand, and — it seems — humankind is making a comeback. In his concept paper, Industry 5.0 – a Human-centric Solution, Professor Saeid Nahavandi, Director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation at Deakin University, Australia, said Industry 5.0 would ‘bring back human workers to the factory floor’ by pairing ‘human and machine to further utilize human brainpower and creativity to increase process efficiency by combining workflows with intelligent systems. … Industry 5.0 will be a synergy between humans and autonomous machines.”[6]


According to Gary Neights, Senior Director, Product Management at Elemica, this human/machine collaboration will extend far beyond the factory floor. He insists, “The latest Industrial Revolution, and the one I feel has the most potential to truly optimize supply chains in a strategic way, is the fifth. Industry 5.0 seeks to take these highly automated, connected and intelligent digital ecosystems and pair them with a human touch. This means leveraging the human element in a way that helps customize end-user experiences, optimize workflows, etc. — getting the best from both the people and technology involved in the process.”[7]


Andreas Eschbach, CEO and Founder of eschbach, insists Industry 5.0 will emerge as the result of a convergence of technology, infrastructure, and processes. He explains, “In the near future, a new wave of cognitive computing applications and infrastructure, collectively known as Industry 5.0, will transform chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing, leading to innovations in drug therapies and dramatically accelerating new drug discovery.”[8] Like others, however, he sees human/machine collaboration as the centerpiece of Industry 5.0. He writes, “While their contributions have been many, Industry 4.0 and industrial IoT concepts have their limitations. Traditionally focused on automation, they have only recognized the role of the human factor as simply another component, rather than an integral and creative contributor to the success of the process.”


Content writer James Jardine (@jamjardi) insists there are three things people should know about Industry 5.0.[9] They are:


#1 Industry 5.0 is aimed at supporting — not superseding — humans. Jardine explains, “Don’t mistake the upsurge in robotics as an opportunity to eliminate headcount and replace workers who perform repetitive tasks on assembly lines. Manufacturers who understand the value of human intuition and problem-solving capabilities are positioning themselves to thrive. … Working together with people, robots can fulfill their designated purpose of providing assistance and making our lives better. Universal Robots uses the term ‘cobots’ for collaborative robots to emphasize the importance of people in robotic technology.”


#2 Industry 5.0 is about finding the optimal balance of efficiency and productivity. Once again, Jardine stresses the importance of human/machine collaboration. He writes, “The objective of Industry 4.0 is to interconnect machines, processes and systems for maximum performance optimization. Industry 5.0 takes such efficiency and productivity a step further. It’s about refining the collaborative interactions between humans and machines.”


#3 The progress of Industry 5.0 is unavoidable. “Once you’ve used technology to make a process more efficient,” Jardine writes, “there’s no point in reverting to the old way of doing things. It’s why we use computers with word processing software instead of typewriters. Similarly, Industry 5.0 is the manufacturing world’s event horizon. Given the efficiencies that can be gained, we’re well past the point of going back.”


Concluding Thoughts


Technology, not people, has been the motivating driver of all past industrial revolutions. The next industrial revolution will be the same. Technology has determined how humans are used in an industrial setting. That’s why the above explanations of Industry 5.0 seem more evolutionary (aka Industry 4.1) than revolutionary. Industry 4.1 is the calm after the storm, not a new storm. If proponents of Industry 5.0 are touting it as a revolution, and not simply evolution, they need to identify the new technologies that will drive revolutionary change. I’ve been hard-pressed to find any new technologies that would lead to a new industrial revolution.


The Nexus Integra team describes some of the technologies driving Industry 4.0. They write, “[Industry 4.0] has seen the emergence of digital industry: advancements such as the Industrial Internet of Things or the combination of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data have generated a new type of technology that can offer companies a data-based knowledge. This has, in turn, translated into processes such as Operating Intelligence and Business Intelligence, which generate models that apply technology with aims on making increasingly accurate and less uncertain decisions.” Other technologies, like additive manufacturing and digital twins, are also in the Industry 4.0 mix. These technologies also seem to be at the heart of the so-called Industry 5.0 movement.


Does that mean that Industry 4.1 isn’t important? Absolutely not. Any successful business will focus on how technology, processes, and people work harmoniously to achieve desired ends. Industry 4.1 (or Industry 5.0) appears to be figuring out the people-side of Industry 4.0. Jardine seems to agree. He writes, “[Industry 5.0 is] much more than simply bumping up industrialization one tick higher on the dial. It’s the next step in the evolution of manufacturing.” I’m sure there will be a Fifth Industrial Revolution; however, to date, the technologies that will drive that revolution haven’t been created.


[1] Staff, “The State of Industrial Digital Transformation,” PTC, 2021.
[2] Markus Lorenz, Michael Rüßmann, Rainer Strack, Knud Lasse Lueth, and Moritz Bolle, “Man and Machine in Industry 4.0,” bcg.perspectives, 28 September 2015.
[3] Staff, “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” World Economic Forum.
[4] Staff, “Revolution,” Dictionary.com.
[5] Staff, “Industry 5.0: the new revolution,” Nexus Integra.
[6] Marilyn de Villiers, “Industry 5.0 – Man and machine driving mass personalisation,” IT Web, 25 May 2021.
[7] Gary Neights, “Industry 5.0 And The Supply Chain,” Talking Logistics, 11 August 2020.
[8] Andreas Eschbach, “How Industry 5.0 Will Transform Process Manufacturing As We Know It,” Forbes, 13 July 2021.
[9] James Jardine, “Industry 5.0: Top 3 Things You Need to Know,” MasterControl, 30 July 2020.

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