The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the term coined by Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, to describe the fourth major industrial era since the first industrial revolution which took place in Europe and America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Industry 4.0 comprises a collection of transformative technologies, what Schwab refers to as “emerging technology breakthroughs,” such as automation, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, digitalisation, use of composite materials, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and nanotechnology with industrial/commercial applications.
Although not a new technology, many commentators would include additive manufacturing (AM) in the list of transformative technologies making up Industry 4.0. Until relatively recently, however, AM’s adoption was largely confined to development of prototypes with industrial uses rather than full scale manufacturing. This started to change with the expiration of certain key patents around a decade or so ago, to the point that today – although still in its infancy – AM has reached an inflection point as lower costs and technical advances have put it in reach of a greater number of businesses and consumers.