What does it really mean?
It all started at the Hanover Fair in 2011; the term "Industrie 4.0" reached the attention of the public for the first time. Two years later, at Hanover Fair, the German government presented a final report with the title “Implementation Recommendations for the Future Project: “Industrie 4.0”. Principally Industry 4.0 deals with digitalization in three main areas of the German industry: production, mechanical engineering and automation.
4th Industrial Revolution
Industry 4.0 is considered the fourth industrial revolution: After mechanization followed electrification (introduction of the assembly lines) and the introduction of computers. Now, within the scope of Industry 4.0, the Internet enters factories. Industry 4.0 deals with cyber-physical systems (CPS), physical systems, mechanical and electro-mechanical equipment or anything else that can gain new potential by using the Internet.
A very classical application area of Industry 4.0 is remote maintenance that for example, permits maintaining a huge printing machine in Australia from Germany. When combined with augmented reality this becomes even more possible. For this, the installer in the field would put on special glasses (for instance Google Glass), to mark the exact screws that need to be removed in the correct sequence in order to repair the machine, all via visual displays on the glasses.
Down to Batch Size 1
Through inclusion of the Internet and CPS, Industry 4.0 will make the production more efficient and more flexible to allow a batch size 1 at affordable prices. In the same way consumers can have their muesli mixed to their individual preference, the Internet enables individual production of machines.
Additionally there can be tremendous cost reductions. For example, if a machine delivered from Germany to New Zealand monitors itself and discovers, that a certain element could fail within the next three months, then there is a possibility to cost-effectively dispatch the relevant spare part via a sea route rather than via air freight, significantly lowering costs especially with heavy machine parts.
Connected Supply Processes
Within the scope of Industry 4.0, besides maintenance and production, supply processes are also interconnected using the Internet. Manufacturers can communicate transparently with their supplier and their supplier’s supplier. If the example machine in New Zealand signals an upcoming medium-term failure the producer can automatically order the required component at his (sub-)supplier or commission it.
A high amount of sensor data can be accumulated from the remote control/remote maintenance process, so when producers systematically evaluate data collected from many similar machines, they can analyse it to draw conclusions about the causes of eventual failures or operational interruptions. After careful analysis producers can improve the quality and the longevity of future production through constructive measures.
Industry 4.0 Platform
The government of the Federal Republic of Germany has even installed an Industry 4.0 platform; its members include the VDMA (German Engineering Association) and the VDE (Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies) plus industrial companies. This platform primarily deals with standardizing issues.
There are repeated claims that Industry 4.0 will cause a loss of jobs. In fact the opposite is true. Without Industry 4.0 there is a danger that the European industry will loose touch, and new players from Asia or America will take over the core markets for the German economy and European industry respectively. However, as Industry 4.0 requires ever more highly qualified personnel and less un-skilled workers, there is likely to be a shift in the quality of the jobs,
In the consumer electronics and telecommunication segments, Europe has already had to learn the painful lesson of the consequences of the exodus of a whole industry. For this reason it is especially important that the European industry actively takes its chances now, whilst they are available.
There are activities in the Industry 4.0 area not only in Germany but also worldwide. Such initiatives include Smart Factory (the Netherlands), Usine du Futur (France), High Value Manufacturing Catapult (Great Britain), Fabbrica del Futuro (Italy), Made in China 2025 (China), Basque Industry 4.0 ( Spain), Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (USA) and Industrial Internet Consortium (USA).