What is Industrie 4.0?

IT technician with tablet
© fotolia/Westend61

The fourth industrial revolution: Towards intelligent and flexible production

Industrie 4.0 combines production methods with state-of-the-art information and communication technology. The driving force behind this development is the rapidly increasing digitisation of the economy and society. It is changing the future of manufacturing and work in Germany: In the tradition of the steam engine, the production line, electronics and IT, smart factories are now determining the fourth industrial revolution.

The technological foundation is provided by intelligent, digitally networked systems that will make largely self-managing production processes possible: In the world of Industrie 4.0, people, machines, equipment, logistics systems and products communicate and cooperate with each other directly. Production and logistics processes are integrated intelligently across company boundaries to make manufacturing more efficient and flexible.

This facilitates smart value-creation chains which include all of the lifecycle phases of the product – from the initial product idea and development, production, use and maintenance through to recycling. In this way, customer wishes for everything from the product idea through to recycling can be taken into account, as well as the related services. This enables companies to produce products that are customised according to individual customer requirements more easily than before. The individual production and maintenance of products could become the new norm.

At the same time, manufacturing costs can be reduced despite the individualised manufacturing. Networking the companies in the supply chain makes it possible to optimise not only individual production steps, but the entire value chain. Comprehensive realtime information enables companies to react to the availability of certain raw materials early on, for example. Production processes can be controlled across company boundaries to save resources and energy.

All in all, production efficiency can be improved, the competitiveness of German industry strengthened and the flexibility of production increased.

Key social and political organisational tasks

This offers enormous potential for Germany as an innovation and business location as some 15 million jobs depend directly and indirectly on the manufacturing industries. The digitisation of industry and the economy will not only transform value-creation processes but also give rise to new business models and new prospects for employees. Intelligent, digital production processes present great opportunities for small and mediumsized enterprises in particular.

However, as the economy becomes more digitised and networked, the number of interfaces between different actors will increase. Uniform standards for different industry sectors, IT security and data protection play a central role in this, as well as questions relating to the way work will be organised in the future. Only if all the relevant stakeholders from industry, science, politics and society are involved and work together from an early stage can they make the fourth industrial revolution a success. Plattform Industrie 4.0 is tasked with drawing up relevant recommendations for action and demonstrating with example applications how industrial manufacturing can be digitised successfully in practice.

Plattform Industrie 4.0

Plattform Industrie 4.0’s primary objective is to secure and develop Germany’s top international position in industrial manufacturing. The platform aims to promote digital structural change and to provide the consistent and reliable framework necessary for this. The more networked the economy becomes, the more cooperation, participation and coordination of all stakeholders is needed. The platform’s goal is therefore to develop a consistent overall understanding of Industrie 4.0 through dialogue with businesses, trade unions, science and government. To draw up relevant recommendations for action and demonstrate with example applications how industrial manufacturing can be digitised successfully in practice.