Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the cyber-physical transformation of manufacturing. The name is inspired by Germany's Industrie 4.0, a government initiative to promote connected manufacturing and a digital convergence between industry, businesses and other processes.

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution, though there is disagreement over how to define the  revolutions. The first industrial revolution took place at the end of the 18th century and was marked by mechanization made possible by steam and water power. The second industrial revolution, which occurred at the start of the 20th century, was aided by electricity and marked by mass production, assembly lines, and divisions of labor. The third, around the start of the 1970s, came through the use of computers to further automate machines and production processes.

The vision of the fourth industrial revolution will result in the smart factory and make full use of digital manufacturing. Currently in its infancy and beginning to take place in isolated ways, its fully connected and vast form remains a vision for the future. It is expected to be a transformative, end-to-end digitization of the manufacturing sector. In the vision of Industry 4.0, a fully interoperable ecosystem of machines and partners will be realized across the supply chain and data will both inform and correct the course of actions.

Industrial revolution history

Drivers of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is driven by the convergence of technologies, including:

  • The industrial internet of things (IIoT) and the widespread use of sensors.
  • Big data and analytics.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
  • LPWANs for machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) networks.
  • IT/OT convergence.
  • Touch and voice interfaces and augmented reality (AR) systems.
  • Advanced robotics.
  • Additive manufacturing.

Essentially, all the new and developing technologies created for humans to communicate with machines, for machines to communicate with each other and to achieve more complicated goals, and for data to inform and optimize all the processes related to the manufacturing sector will interconnect manufacturing processes from design through the end of the product lifecycle.   

Benefits of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is likely to provide numerous benefits. Analytics will speed product development and later show OEMs how customers really used a product vs. how it was expected it to be used. Data from sensors will show ways to optimize production, providing continuous status updates that will be compared with a Digital twin (a simulation that runs at perfect efficiency) to provide corrective information and predictive maintenance alerts. Additive manufacturing will make highly flexible or small production runs lucrative. Augmented reality will boost efficiency and learning, while machines will help people with unsafe or complex tasks and become more autonomous. Some of these advances are already happening on a smaller scale.

The more overarching or holistic goal of the Industry 4.0 vision is to transform  manufacturing and all its related industries, from design to logistics to end-of-product-lifecycle into a more efficient and innovative customer-responsive endeavor, with attendant new business models and revenue sources. It is also expected to transform cities and utilities.

Although some companies are leading the way with isolated examples that show the potential of Industry 4.0, many companies are expected to struggle, particularly due to the costs of emerging technology. Interoperability is another concern, with partners across the supply chain struggling to share data seamlessly. In addition, standards and security are expected to receive major attention as Industry 4.0 applications proliferate and platforms develop.

This was last updated in January 2018

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