Digitalisation Industry 4.0 clearly explained - Definition, benefits and topics

Editor: Steffen Donath

Industry 4.0 is often understood as a keyword for the development of the entire industry in the context of digitisation. But the term is much more complex than that.

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Industry 4.0 describes the smart networking of machines and machine-operated processes in industry.
Industry 4.0 describes the smart networking of machines and machine-operated processes in industry.
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First of all, it is important to note that in the context of digitisation and automation, terms such as networking and platform-based work also need to become much more prominent. There is no denying that much of the industry will change massively in the coming years and decades. But to what extent this will happen can already be clearly defined in parts today. And in precisely this context the term Industry 4.0 was used for the first time.

Industry 4.0: A general definition

Although Industry 4.0 has become a buzzword, far too few people, including many decision makers at company level, can clearly define it. The term basically refers to the intelligent and permanent linking and networking of machines and machine-operated processes in industry. Thanks to modern solutions from the field of digitisation, communication and information technology can be used to network people, machines and the resulting products with each other and thus generate significantly higher and more effective productivity. Depending on the company and the focus of production, different intelligent networking and digitisation solutions may determine the working world in the future.

However, let us also look at the concept of Industry 4.0 from the point of view of different definitions in order to get an accurate picture of the facts. For example, the "Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie e.V". defines the term as follows in a publication:

“After mechanisation (Industry 1.0), mass production (Industry 2.0) and automation (Industry 3.0), the advent of the Internet of Things and Services in manufacturing is leading to the fourth industrial revolution: Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 makes production more individual and efficient. Thanks to new forms of organisation [...] experts forecast productivity increases of up to 30 percent by 2025.”

It turns out that the definition of Industry 4.0 can also vary considerably, depending on the point of view. For this reason, we should first look at the fundamental aspects and the characteristics that this new revolution can and must bring at the industrial level.

Important characteristics of Industry 4.0

The keywords digitisation and networking play a very important role in the Industry 4.0 segment. But automation will also be much more important in the future than we can imagine today. But let us first take a look at the various possibilities and features of the new industrial revolution. Experts, among others, are among the companies' upcoming opportunities:

Flexible production:

Most experts' definition understands above all a significantly better networking and digitisation of the production environments. As a rule, the production of a product requires many steps in different companies. Optimised networking allows better coordinated steps and thus significantly higher productivity.

Flexible production environments:

In the future, most production lines will be modular and therefore extremely flexible. In the optimum case, a product can be manufactured in many different and clearly specified variations via a production line. This not only increases the economic efficiency of production in many areas, but also makes individual productions in small quantities profitable for the customer.

Optimised logistics solutions:

Thanks to smart networking and digitisation in the field of logistics, commodity chains can be calculated and optimised by algorithms, for example. Machines and warehouses independently report missing production equipment and the finished products are also delivered by a smart and thus faster acting system.

Active conservation of resources:

As part of the necessary conservation of natural resources, products are developed in such a way that they can be used optimally throughout their entire life cycle. In addition, it is considered probable that the extent to which certain elements can be reused or used elsewhere will already be determined in the design process of the individual product groups.

Clear customer orientation:

Customers and producers are moving ever closer together within the framework of Industry 4.0. Smart products enable producers to better understand the wishes and requirements of the respective target groups and thus produce optimised products. In Industry 4.0, customers are also given much greater influence over individual products. As already mentioned above, thanks to the technical innovations of Industry 4.0, customers can design parts of the products themselves and thus individualise them.

Effective use of all data:

The strong digitalisation and networking in Industry 4.0 will generate an enormous amount of data. Not only can these data be better combined and evaluated, but they also offer the possibility of completely new service solutions. For example, proactive maintenance contracts can be concluded more effectively so that downtimes can be reduced or even prevented for a wide variety of machines. These Industry 4.0 solutions are already in use in some areas today, but will increase significantly in the coming decades due to the stronger networking.

Topics within Industry 4.0

Internet of Things (IoT):

The Internet of things is the networking and control of digital solutions and various products directly via the Internet. This is already partially established today, but will continue to grow significantly in the context of Industry 4.0.

Industrial Internet of Things:

Similarly stored, but not yet comprehensively implemented due to the size and scope of the different production facilities. In the future, automation will play a particularly important role in Industry 4.0.

Cloud Computing:

Cloud computing is already being used successfully in many companies and offers the possibility of using many services independently and flexibly. The Industry 4.0 platform is already improving existing and future offerings by establishing various standards in the area of digitisation.

Big Data:

Big Data will be another central point in the area of Industry 4.0. Thanks to newer and faster systems and artificial intelligence and algorithms, data will hardly be accessible to humans. Nevertheless, Big Data will change many areas of production permanently, as the algorithms can often react and act within a few seconds due to the sheer volume of data.

Digitisation as the basis for success

The concept of digitisation plays a very special role in the context of Industry 4.0. After all, digital data is the key to success in future production. This applies on the one hand to the data collected from the customers and in parts also from the products, but above all also to the data within a production cycle. In the future, it will be the case in many production plants that, for example, the individual components will already contain data and information. In this way, the product can communicate with the manufacturing machine within the framework of a production line and inform it, for example, of the product for which this workpiece is planned. In this way, digitisation can be used, for example, to design production lines that can simultaneously produce different variants of a particular product in a single operation. As a result, digitisation allows precise control of production processes in Industry 4.0 and a significantly leaner and more effective production process.

Networking and safety in Industry 4.0

Of course, in combination with digitisation in the context of Industry 4.0, networking is also becoming increasingly important. This is because the data must not only be linked within a company or a production facility, but must ultimately be retained throughout the entire production cycle. Without good and comprehensive international networking, this solution cannot be implemented in the field of digitisation. However, one cannot pretend that digitisation and networking only brings advantages. The dangers of Industry 4.0 should also be made clear.

Within the framework of Industry 4.0, more and more companies will collect and process enormous amounts of data through digitisation. The systems will easily be able to structure and process this data comprehensively, especially since the data is intended for the algorithms and therefore no longer needs to be captured by humans. But with better networking, the risks in IT security also play an increasingly important role. Manipulation of data or algorithms can very quickly lead to considerable economic problems. This is where most experts in this field see the greatest dangers for Industry 4.0. The Industry 4.0 platform also urgently warns against these possibilities. It is therefore essential for Industry 4.0 to provide secure solutions in the area of networking and digitisation and to establish these solutions across industries through uniform security standards.

The Industry 4.0 Platform: What is it?

Another buzzword that is frequently used in this context is the Industry 4.0 platform. It is a joint initiative of ZVEI, VDMA and Bitkom and was established very quickly. The network should already now examine the current possibilities and opportunities of Industry 4.0 and enable a good and above all planned transition to Industry 4.0 through international and national cooperation. The overriding goal is to expand Germany's leading international position in the field of manufacturing industries and company branches and to effectively implement the necessary technologies. The platform serves, among other things, as an initiator or moderator and tries to harmonise the different companies and the different interests in Industry 4.0 with each other. For example, the Industry 4.0 platform develops basic concepts and plans in working groups to shape the implementation of Industry 4.0 in the future. In addition, it publishes concrete recommendations for action to companies, science and politics, drawn up through studies and symposia, which deal comprehensively with the risks and opportunities of Industry 4.0 and the associated digitisation and networking.

A further important factor for the Industry 4.0 platform is the concrete and direct support of small and medium-sized enterprises in coping with the challenges of Industry 4.0. The Industry 4.0 platform, for example, publishes offers such as an online map or a library or offers a comprehensive commitment in the Industry 4.0 transfer network. Another central topic for the Industry 4.0 platform is the clear promotion of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area of IT security and standardisation in networking and digitisation, in order to be optimally prepared for the challenges of Industry 4.0. The Industry 4.0 platform has already achieved considerable success in this area.

What role does the Industry 4.0 platform play?

The Industry 4.0 platform initially presented itself primarily as a national solution, which was intended to make Germany a business location for Industry 4.0. But in the course of time and due to the increasingly clear demands in terms of digitisation, networking and big data, the platform Industry 4.0 became a much larger and better networked agenda, which quickly had to realise that purely national solutions within the framework of Industry 4.0 would be a thing of the past in production. Accordingly, the Industry 4.0 platform has a much more international orientation and, through uniform standards and, above all, clear advances in the area of IT security, ensures that the Industrial Revolution 4.0 makes noticeable progress.

Industry 4.0: Implementation matters

Thanks to the Industry 4.0 platform and the associated research assignments and various publications, we can already clearly see what enormous opportunities, but also challenges, Industry 4.0 will offer. Only the increasing digitalisation of many companies and the targeted yet secure networking of a wide variety of work areas will make it possible to create a truly profitable and flexible production landscape in the future. It is up to the individual companies to prepare themselves at an early stage for this turnaround and to make the transitions as simple as possible by digitising their own production processes. It is therefore important for you as a decision-maker to prepare yourself for Industry 4.0 by using new technologies and new technological solutions.

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