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Industrial Revolutions and where they all began

We look back to the first Industrial Revolution and how the innovations of that era are related to the ‘fourth’, data-driven, industrial revolution we’re experiencing today.

With the advent of the IoT era and the fourth industrial revolution, often referred to as Industrie 4.0, we are increasingly hearing terms such as disruptive business models, urbanisation, automation, innovation.

Yet these words also apply to the first Industrial Revolution, which made life as we know it possible.

Here we look at some of the great changes and opportunities that come with industrial revolutions past and present:

“It’s either the steam engine – or the search engine”[1]

It’s been said that the steam engine was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. James Watt and Matthew Boulton worked together to advance the existing steam engine by adding a rotative function, which allowed machinery to work much faster and without human power. Steam engines required a constant supply of coal and this led to a new era of coal mining. We have now come full circle – with climate change and air pollution firmly on the global agenda, coal is being replaced by clean energy. The UK, for example, has vowed to close all its coal power plants by 2025 as it turns to cleaner sources.

Away from the countryside

The first Industrial Revolution led to the start of urbanisation, as people abandoned their traditional rural lives and flocked to growing industrial cities in search of employment. Between 1771 and 1831, Manchester’s population grew six fold. Fast forward to the twenty first century and we are looking at 66% of the world’s population living in urban areas by 2050.

The railways

It’s hard to imagine the days when a galloping horse was the fastest mode of transport, but for thousands of years it was – until the first Industrial Revolution came along and gave us the railways. Some say that the railways are as significant as the internet in paving the way for new commercial opportunities, as well as allowing the quicker transportation of goods around the country. Modernisation, electrification and high speed rail are now bringing the railways firmly into the twenty first century – and beyond. The introduction of smart technology, such as Hitachi Rail Europe’s digital signalling system, is making the most of opportunities offered by big data and is helping to make rail journeys more seamless.

The dawn of the factory era

Before the first Industrial Revolution, manufacturing was carried out by hand or by basic machines in people’s homes. The creation of the assembly line and the rise of factories fundamentally changed this and the way that goods could be produced. The mechanised assembly line enabled a large number of people to work on the same task, substantially increasing the number of goods produced whilst reducing production costs and prices. The fourth Industrial Revolution is once again changing the way we manufacture goods. The introduction of artificial intelligence and robots to the factory floor is automating production even further and bringing us into a new era of smart manufacturing which revolves around big data.


[1] In 2015, Raconteur surveyed over 400 scientists, academic, tech journalists, authors and academics about the greatest inventions of all time and their favourite response was: “It’s either the steam engine – or the search engine.”