What is Industry 4.0

First Posted: Apr 13, 2013 10:21 PM EDT

The term "Industry 4.0" was coined, similar to Cloud Computing, to have a short and symbolic keyword describing the smart factories, intelligent machines and networked processes that facilitate and result from the 4th industrial revolution that is now beginning. This will be one of the major trends shaping the first half of the 21st century.

To put this into perspective, the first industrial revolution started around 1780 with the first mechanical manufacturing facilities and especially the invention and widespread use of the steam engine and coal for energy. The second phase set in around 1900 with electricity and the development of large capital goods industries like steel and oil which enabled mass-manufacturing. The microchip, computers and globalization ushered in the third industrial revolution in the 1970s, which expanded highly efficient production on a global scale and scope never seen before, all on the foundation of automation. This trend now matured and is still growing, with multi-national consumer good corporations like Volkswagen planting highly automated factories on all continents. It will over the next years be supplemented by the fourth industrial revolution that merges the existing vast industrial infrastructure with the Internet of Things and Cloud Computing, creating a direct and real-time interface between the virtual and physical world: The birth of Cyber-Physical Systems!

These intelligent objects that network embedded systems with internet-based wireless technologies will receive sensor data and use it to control flows of materials, products and information. Intelligent materials tell machines how they need to be processed. Maintenance and servicing are initiated by the components of the smart factories themselves. Rigid production lines are transformed into modular, efficient systems that conserve resources. The entire lifecycle of a product is documented in full. People are supported by smart training and assistance systems.

Today the Internet already includes 340 sextillion addresses identifying machines, work pieces and components. Less than ten years from now, 50 billion devices are expected to be networked with each other. "Machines, facilities, work pieces and components will trade data and information in real time in the future," explains Dr. Jochen Köckler of the Deutsche Messe Executive Board in Hannover. "This will give an extra push towards more efficiency, security and resource protection in manufacturing and logistics."

The concept and name of Industry 4.0 was developed by German experts with both scientific and industrial backgrounds. Industry 4.0 now has a central place in the German government's high-tech strategy, with the forward-looking project being funded with 200 million euro.

Hannover Messe 2013, the world's largest technology trade fair, highlighted the concept under "Integrated Industry" this April and exhibited the popular demonstrator SmartFactoryKL. The intelligent model factory was put together and presented by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), among the largest nonprofit contract research institutes in the field of innovative software technology based on artificial intelligence (AI) methods, to showcase innovative solutions to optimize manufacturing in Germany.

"The increasing penetration of IT and the growing integration of all industrial technologies are taking place in evolutionary steps from today's perspective. However, looking back, the completely IT-based interaction between human being, product and machine could prove to be a real industrial revolution", acknowledges Siegfried Russwurm, CEO of Siemens Industry Sector, speaking at the Hannover Messe on the topic of Industry 4.0. Russwurm said that Siemens, the largest industrial technology company in the world and leading provider of automation solutions, is already today laying the essential foundations for its implementation. A decisive role would be played by innovative industrial software which allows the integration of product development and production, and consequently paves the way for the holistic optimization of product development and production processes, he noted.

Interestingly, Siemens was also at the forefront of the second industrial revolution 150 years ago, even initiating it since it was Werner von Siemens who discovered the dynamo-electric principle in 1866 and thus enabled electricity to be put to practical use. It looks great for the 4th industrial revolution as this company, together with all the competitor, client and supplier companies will most likely repeat the success story of the previous three evolutionary steps of technological civilization.

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