What are the Four Industrial Revolutions?

First Published: June 12, 2024
Channel: Technology

Our current industrial and digital automation time is often called the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0).

What does this mean, and what were the first three revolutions?

The four industrial revolutions refer to distinct periods of technological advancements and transformations in manufacturing processes and industrial systems, each contributing significantly to changes in work and life.

First Industrial Revolution (Late 18th to Early 19th Century)

Nashua Manufacturing Company Mill #7 From My Office

The First Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain around 1760, was characterized by the transition from manual labor and a draft animal-based economy to machine manufacturing. Key developments included:

  • The introduction of mechanical production facilities powered by water and steam.
  • Growth in the coal mining industry and oil exploration and drilling.
  • Developing the spinning jenny, water frame, and power loom revolutionized the textile industry.
  • While James Watt is often credited with inventing the steam engine, others, such as Jerónimo de Ayanz, Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen, had previously built steam-powered devices for pumping water from mines. Watt improved on these designs, and steam went on to enable mechanized factories, gradually replacing water power and allowing factories to be built in areas without convenient water sources.
  • The adoption of new basic materials like iron and steel.
  • The emergence of the factory system and division of labor reduced the number of communities relying on small-scale agriculture.

Second Industrial Revolution (Late 19th to Early 20th Century)

Ford Model T Assembly Line

The Second Industrial Revolution, also known as the Technological Revolution, occurred around 1870 to 1914, primarily in Europe and North America. It was marked by:

  • The widespread use of electric power for industrial operations.
  • Building of power grids, delivering power to many communities.
  • The development of the internal combustion engine and assembly line manufacturing.
  • The invention of the telephone, light bulb, phonograph, and radio.
  • The construction of railroads and the advent of mass transit systems.
  • The rise of the chemical industry and advancements in steel production.

Third Industrial Revolution (Mid-20th Century)

The First AMSL Chip Making System (1980s) with EUV Lithography System in the Background. Source ~ AMSL

The Third Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution, began in the 1950s with the development of digital computers, electronics, and information technology. Key milestones included:

  • Growth in aviation – for passengers, cargo and military.
  • Advances in sciences – atomic bombs produced and used.
  • The invention of the transistor and microprocessor – growing in alignment with Moore’s Law
  • The birth of the internet and personal computing made information and communications available to many people.
  • The adoption of automation and robotics in manufacturing
  • The emergence of telecommunications and cellular networks
Silicon Wafer, Etched With Computer Chips
Communications and Computers

Fourth Industrial Revolution (Present Day)

Robots on Packaging Line. Source ~ ABB

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is the current wave of technological advancements characterized by the fusion of digital, physical, and biological systems. It encompasses:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and interconnected devices
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and big data analytics – driven by computer processing power.
  • Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
  • The rise of robotic technology in manufacturing and logistics has replaced many manual and repetitive tasks.
  • Biotechnology, nanotechnology, and renewable energy sources

Fifth Industrial Revolution (The Future)

What do you think is next?

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