Opportunities and challenges

From smart objects and networked machines back to people

Modern production plant
© fotolia/industrieblick

For Germany, as the leading international supplier of industrial equipment, Industrie 4.0 presents great opportunities: Some 15 million jobs in Germany depend directly and indirectly on the manufacturing sector. They play a decisive role in the international competitiveness of German industry. In order to maintain and expand this competitive strength, the enormous potential of Industrie 4.0 must be adopted early on and we must be active in shaping the digital restructuring of industry.

Germany’s competitive strength and expertise in the field of embedded systems means the country is well placed to benefit from this potential and to grasp the opportunities that Industrie 4.0 presents.

A step towards more efficient and resource-saving manufacturing

The advantages are clear: The close networking of products and machines boosts efficiency, reduces costs and saves resources. Intelligent monitoring and transparent processes provide companies with a constant overview, enabling them to react flexibly and rapidly to changes in the market. For example, if a supplier cannot deliver or a commodity is in short supply, production processes and delivery volumes can be adjusted ad hoc.

Modern IT solutions and machines which, in contrast to earlier iterations, operate autonomously and do not require complicated programming to meet new requirements, make it possible to react quickly to individual customer requests. Individual parts “know” what they are, how they need to be processed, and where they belong, and can coordinate with the production plant. The plant decides independently what should be done and sets the timeframe and priority level.

However, intelligently networked systems are gaining a foothold even beyond classic industries such as mechanical and electrical engineering, for example in agriculture, where the combine harvesters of the future will harvest crops automatically.

Innovations that are changing the business landscape in Germany

Moreover, Industrie 4.0 presents numerous opportunities for innovative business models and services from which startups and small and medium-sized enterprises in particular can benefit. This is because intelligent products and machines collect diverse data that aid the development of new products and services as well as the optimisation of production processes across business locations.

Finally, the digitisation of the economy and society is changing the way work is done in Germany and is creating new opportunities. In view of demographic change in particular, intelligent assistance systems, such as freight and service robots, will enable older people to work for longer. At the same time, processes can be designed more flexibly and geared towards the needs of the workforce – and a better work-life balance.

Nevertheless, for the fourth industrial revolution to succeed, there are still a number of challenges that need to be overcome: Questions about the way work is organised, IT security and data protection must also be discussed with all the relevant stakeholders at an early stage – as well as the training of skilled employees and the development of uniform norms and standards that are required in a digitised economy.