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Industry 4.0 isn’t a technology. It’s a concept, which is why it’s useful to understand its background. Industry 4.0 has its roots in Germany, a country where manufacturing accounts for 20% of GDP. In the early years of the 21st century, people in Germany were asking how the country could maintain leadership in manufacturing as it faced new challenges, such as low-cost competitors emerging in Asia and the increasing inclusion of software and electronic parts into cars and machine tools.

In 2010, the German government developed its High-Tech Strategy for 2020. One of the proposed follow-on actions was to look more in depth at what was to become Industry 4.0. In April 2013, publication of an 80 page-report “Securing the future of German manufacturing industry: Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative Industrie 4.0” mentioned a new type of industrialization – a successor to three previous industrial revolutions: mechanization, electricity, and information technology (IT). This fourth industrial revolution is the convergence of the virtual world (cyberspace) and the physical world in the form of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), and services. These are expected to lead to technical innovations such as smart factories, smart products, and organizational changes with companies establishing networks linking customers, products, factory equipment, and suppliers.

Governments, companies, and university researchers in other countries saw this happening in Germany and reasoned that they should also be preparing their industries and companies for the coming revolution, so they also launched Industry 4.0 programs and projects.

Industry 4.0 opportunities

The convergence of the physical and virtual worlds will lead to a digital world in which all parts of a company (marketing, engineering, logistics, manufacturing, maintenance, customer service, etc.), its suppliers, its customers, and its products will be connected using communications networks, enabling instantly available information.

There will be vertical and horizontal integration of shop-floor activities – vertical integration from shop floor sensors up through manufacturing execution systems (MES) to the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; and horizontal integration from factory systems connected and integrated to other systems in the company such as customer relationship management (CRM). As appropriate, factory systems will connect to customer and supplier systems.

In this new world, there will be new opportunities and business models such as: determining what products a company’s future customers want to acquire before the products even exist; selling various products and services using the World Wide Web; offering products for lease rather than for purchase; pay-per-use products; networks of companies coming together for specific products; and mass customization with autonomous, self-controlling, self-configuring factories, producing with a batch size of one.

Emerging technologies

The concept and vision of Industry 4.0 can only be achieved on the basis of many existing technologies, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and product data management (PDM) and new technologies. Technologies in the scope of Industry 4.0 include smart factories, smart products, connected products, IoT, the Industrial IoT (IIoT), Big Data, social technology, analytics, manufacturing automation, digital models, digital twin, robotics, simulation, additive manufacturing (AM), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), cloud, cybersecurity, radio-frequency identification (RFID), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain.

With IoT, for example, things are products. They may be personal products such as clothes and health monitors, or home products such as a refrigerator, or industrial products such as a locomotive. They’re smart products, fitted with electronic devices such as sensors and transmitters. They’re Internet-connected products that can transmit information about the product back to the user or the manufacturer. A smart train carriage, for example, could send a message to the operator when it needs maintenance, and it can send a message to the manufacturer to say which parts were over-engineered.

Sensors on connected products can generate a lot of data. For example, a connected airplane engine could generate a petabyte of sensor data on a single long-distance flight with valuable information about the engine. However, there’s so much information that it would take a human being many years to read and make sense of it. Instead, that role is taken by analytics. Analytics mines huge volumes of data, searching for correlations, patterns, and meaning. Findings can be transmitted to the product user, manufacturer, or other participants in the product life cycle to better understand product behavior, to identify when a part needs to be changed, or to tailor products to meet customers’ needs.

IIoT is similar but limited in scope to a company’s manufacturing environment. The things are the equipment in the factory such as robots, machine tools, 3D printers, and test rigs. Electronic devices connected to a communications network will generate Big Data to monitor real-time performance. Analysis of the data will improve activities and decision making. For example, the risk of machine breakdown will be reduced by scheduling preventive maintenance based on real-time data. Robots will learn new tasks while working. Machine settings for the next product will be simulated before the physical changeover, reducing setup time.

Current situation: US, Europe

Industry 4.0 may look futuristic, but practical progress is being made in Europe and the U.S. Since April 2015, activities in Germany have been coordinated by Plattform Industrie 4.0, led by the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Minister of Education and Research, and representatives of business, science, and labor unions. The goal is to secure and expand Germany’s position in the manufacturing industry.

More than 500 funded Industrie 4.0 projects have launched. Among the results are the Reference Architecture Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0), which is on its way to being international standard IEC PAS 63088:2017. A 68-page report, “Shaping the Digital Transformation Within Companies,” gives examples and recommendations for action regarding training.

The U.S. doesn’t have a single organization driving Industry 4.0. The National Association of Manufacturers aims to be a leader in providing best practices, data, and insights on what it calls Manufacturing 4.0. It identified five critical issues for 2018/2019: factories of the future; Manufacturing 4.0 sustainability; transformative technologies in manufacturing; next-generation manufacturing leadership and the changing workforce; and M4.0 cultures: collaborative, innovative, and integrated.

The Digital Capability Center at Manufacturing USA’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) in Chicago, Illinois, gives organizations an opportunity to explore Industry 4.0. DMDII is one of Manufacturing USA’s 14 manufacturing innovation institutes.

In 2017, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) announced the IoT as one of its strategic initiatives for 2018. And, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) in Needham, Massachusetts, formed in 2014 to deliver a trustworthy IIoT in which the world’s systems and devices are securely connected and controlled to deliver transformational outcomes. IIC founders include AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM, and Intel. It’s run as a program under the Object Management Group Inc., an international, not-for-profit technology standards consortium.

There may be concern about duplication of effort among these activities in different countries, leading to conflicting proposals or standards. However, groups are collaborating to make sure that doesn’t happen. Since 2016, Plattform Industrie 4.0 has agreed to cooperate with similar groups in France, Japan, Australia, Italy, and the Netherlands. And then, in February 2018, the IIC and Plattform Industrie 4.0 published the joint whitepaper “Architecture Alignment and Interoperability,” addressing alignment between the IIRA and RAMI 4.0 reference architectures. The white paper showed the complementary nature of the two architectures and the need to continue to ensure interoperability.

In September 2018, Plattform Industrie 4.0, Manufacturing USA, IIC, and NEMA coordinated to hold a one-day “Solutions Theater – Industrie 4.0 Meets the Industrial Internet of Things” event at Hannover Messe USA, a co-located show within IMTS 2018, the International Manufacturing Technology Show.

Razorleaf Corp.

About the author: Derek Neiding is engagement director at Razorleaf. He can be reached at derek.neiding@razorleaf.com.