Starting from the end of the 18th Century on, the civil society has experienced a large transformation based on the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. We can stress four stages in the industrial revolution. It kicked off with the advent of the mechanical production in the 18th Century enabled by water and steam power. The second stage is set at the beginning of the 20th century with the massive production thanks to electricity power. Alla that went with peope such as Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. The ‘70s saw the widespread adoption of electronics and IT on the manufacturing floor resulting in the automation of production, considered the third stage in the industrial revolution.
Today, we are at the fourth stage. Autonomous robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, Internet of Things and sensor technologies are few of the keystones that are ruling manufacturing world. The ongoing era of industrial production (often referred shortly as Industry 4.0) lives on the concept of cyber-physical systems. A deep interaction between the real and the virtual worlds which aims at the core of the manufacturing process. Today, what in the past was called "online or offline", is called "inlife" because there is no difference while you are surfing the net or your acting in the phisycal world: everything is inter-linked. Industry 4.0 relies on a complex virtual net of objects, which are able to gather, process and analyse a wide array of data from the physical world. The analysis and exchange of data enables the objects to interact with each other and perform several tasks autonomously.
The fourth industrial revolution is making the boundary between products and services increasingly blurred, paving the way to the so-called servicification of manufacturing.
The interaction between objects through the Internet is giving users to better manage their time and their resources. For example, the mobile app Waze helps users to avoid traffic jams by analysing the data of all the drivers connected to the app. By switching on the app, the users passively contribute traffic and other road data – which are processed in real time to suggest the quicker route; the same way you can buy a jewel by clicking on a digital platform and get your item straight at home few days later wrapped as it was bought at a downtown shop.
Industrial processes are also getting smarter and more efficient. Machine-to-machine communication in the manufacturing floor is, in fact, enabling the industrial equipment to auto-configure, adjust to changes and predict failure, without human assistance. For example, by equipping machines with sensors, it can be monitored for which tasks and for how long the machines are deployed and therefore when the routine maintenance is most likely to be required. On the other hand, data resulting from the use of connected objects is feeding the production process on real time, enabling the company to smartly adjust the functionalities of the products and to offer personalised services.
The concept of Industry 4.0 relies on the central role of machines in understanding and interacting autonomously with the physical world and is paving the way to great opportunities in terms of smarter industrial processes, new business models and the development of new services embedded in products. However, the latest wave of technological innovation is also offering great potential for the manufacturing sector beyond autonomous machine-to-machine interaction. As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, the diffusion of 3D printing is offering the opportunity to actively engage customers in the production process. This represents a critical evolution of the role of the consumer. While the Industry 4.0 is about bringing consumers closer to companies by relying on them as passive providers of data within a complex network of smart interconnected objects, its evolution – the “Industry 4.1” – gives to consumers a revived central role in the production process.
3. What happens in jewelry manufactoring process ?
Consumers become able to intervene at any stage of the production process, from the design of the product to its actual manufacturing and distribution. They can participate to the design phase through 3D printing platforms and other design tools. These tools enable them to easily tweak existing designs or provide their own anatomical data to customise the product.
The jewelry market offers an example of functional customisation, which has already kicked off. There is a mobile app named "Ring Builder" that allows customers to design their own engagement rings. You can customize a diamond ring based on cost, carats and certification. It easily integrates with other tools which connect you with retailers and suppliers (https://bit.ly/325ZCFh). It works by taking several pictures and then transforming that data into an accurate three-dimensional model. The consumer can scan his jewel and provide the data to the company, which will use it to 3D print on-demand customised the item. This example shows the incredible potential of 3D printing to revolutionise the business models of virtually any product - as long as aesthetic or functional customisation offers additional value to the consumer. Besides Ring Builder you can aldo find Twikit to personalise jewellery and dresses.
The consumers can also engage personally with the companies in their local community. In fact, the costs of setting up the production system for additive manufacture is substantially lower than in the case of traditional manufacturing. Urban start-ups are being set up and are producing products on demand and in small batches by engaging personally with consumers.
As of today, we can only speculate on how the industry will be transformed by this technology-enabled participation of the consumers in the production process. Traditional manufacturing will not be disrupted in its entirety. However, we are likely to witness a great deal of transformation in the production of several products, with companies restructuring their production process and encouraging greater consumers’ involvement to seize the new opportunities offered by digital fabrication. This might result in a ‘hybrid’ manufacturing sector – somewhere between traditional and additive production – which facilitates an even deeper connection between the cyber and the physical worlds.