The term Industry 4.0 was coined almost exactly 10 years ago in Germany. We take stock.

What is the fourth industrial revolution?

Put simply, Industry 4.0 is all about the fact that industrial production can be optimized with the help of intelligent and digitally networked IT systems. The basic idea behind it is that not only a person can communicate and cooperate with a machine or a production plant, but that machines or production plants can also communicate and cooperate with each other directly (without the “detour” via people). If you then also include logistics and enable the individual product to communicate with a machine or a system, there are undreamt-of possibilities for optimization across the entire product life cycle, from the development of a product through manufacturing to its use, maintenance, and recycling.

It is obvious that the idea behind Industry 4.0 has an enormous potential for industrial production , for example through automation in production plants or the use of available data in advanced analytics and intelligent assistance systems. For companies in the field of automation and mechanical engineering, which are strongly represented in Germany, it offers the opportunity to continue to be an innovative world market leader in the future. 

Where do we stand with Industry 4.0 today, in 2021?

Many hurdles have been overcome, but some challenges still lie ahead. The development of technical standards and norms is a continuous and difficult process. Data security and cybersecurity are important issues which must not be neglected; however, they are still underestimated in some places. In addition, companies in many industry sectors and application areas must be prepared to reorganize their production.

This indicates that Industry 4.0 is not ‘finished’ yet. But despite all this, it is good to see that more and more products and solutions are coming to market which support standards such as OPC UA, io-link, TSN or 5G. You could say that we are ‘on our way to Industry 4.0’. Many building blocks are ready, demonstrators abound, and initial solutions and products are being implemented on a large scale. But there is still a lot to be done and built up.

In this context, many industrial companies (and other companies) still have a lot of catching-up to do in terms of training their employees about Industry 4.0. This skill gap is currently perhaps the largest hurdle to overcome in many organizations.