Industry 4.0 Gaining Momentum

  • April 29, 2013
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Industry 4.0 was a thread in the presentations at the Hannover Messe 2013 opening ceremony under the umbrella of this year’s “Integrated Industry” theme. The term "4.0" represents a belief that industry is entering a fourth industrial revolution. Many German companies carried this thread throughout the week of Hannover Messe.

Industry 4.0 is part of the German Federal Government’s High-Tech national innovation strategy. The goal is to enable Germany to maintain its international competitiveness and continue its successful development into a knowledge-based society, thereby securing the basis for future prosperity.

The Industry 4.0 term first appeared at Hannover Messe in 2011 when Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, Director and CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, addressed the opening ceremony audience about how to be successful in a high wage region with global competition. He commented, “That means we must be in shape for the 4th industrial revolution that is being driven by the internet.” “The internet of things is creating a bridge between the virtual and the real world.” He noted that in industry this approach is leading to a paradigm shift - it is the product being created itself that controls the production process and uses embedded sensors to monitor the relevant environmental parameters and if there are any disturbances in production, take remedial action. A key part of this concept is embedded information in the products as they move through production that enables fully flexible make-to-order manufacturing.  Some of the Industry 4.0 fundamentals have been applied in some industries already such as RFID tags on engine blocks as they move through production.

At Hannover Messe 2013, Professor Wahlster discussed how Germany has defined Industry 4.0 as a focus on the development steps towards the “Internet of Things” as cyber-physical systems incorporate embedded sensor-actuator systems with semantic M2M (Machine to Machine) communication and active product memories. The goals are control of the full value chains of production in near real-time and very high resolution with networking of technological and business processes.

An example of efforts in this area is a W3C draft called "OMM Event Logging Draft" that is being proposed by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence.  The goal of this effort is to define an object format which allows for modeling of events or other information about individual physical items over their lifetime.  The object memory format design needs to support data storage on "smart labels" attached to the physical items. Such labels range from barcodes, to RFID, to sensor nodes - miniaturized embedded systems capable of performing some processing, gathering sensory information and communicating with other nodes. The object memory format implemented on a "smart label" may also serve as a data collector for real world data concerning a physical item. Associating semantic definitions with the data stored using the object memory format can help tie together the Semantic Web with the “Internet of Things.” Click here for more information.

Industry 4.0 Progress

Industry 4.0 was conceived as a forward-looking project under the German Federal Government's High-Tech Strategy focusing on information and communication technology (informatics).  The High-Tech Strategy was adopted in 2006, reaffirmed by the Federal Government in 2009 and expanded in 2010 as the High-Tech Strategy 2020 initiative. Participants include private industry, Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Federal Ministry of Economics & Technology (BMWi), and Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). In Late 2011, the initial working group was initiated by the KOMMUNIKATION Promoters' Group of the German Industry-Science Research Alliance (FU) with the purpose of drafting comprehensive strategic recommendations for implementing Industry 4.0.  The recommendations for implementation represent the final report by the Industry 4.0 Working Group, which was set up in January 2012 under the chairmanship of Dr. Siegfried Dais (Robert-Bosch GmbH) and Prof. Henning Kagermann (ACATECH - German Academy of Science and Engineering).

The focus regarding the topic of "Smart Factories" is on intelligent production systems and processes and the realization of distributed and networked production methods. At the same time, strategic funding measures in the field of the “Internet of Things” will also address the Industry 4.0 project. Under the heading “Smart Production” there will be a stronger focus on areas such as intra-company production logistics, human-machine interaction and the use of 3D in industrial applications. The project includes close involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises as both providers and users of "Smart Production” methods.

Up to 200 million euros ($260 million U.S. dollars) have been made available for the next step of the Industry 4.0 project. Click here for more information.

Thoughts & Observations

In my opinion, Industry 4.0 is the application of technologies that are enabling the creation of more flexible and responsive manufacturing to better serve the needs of customers. The concept of make-to-order manufacturing and mass customization requires flexible factories that rely on interactive communication with all participants in specification and production; including customers, purchasing, supply chain, machines, production line equipment, and workers.

The concept of having parts moving through production - with electronic identification (i.e.: RFID) and internal memory for adding information through the manufacturing process - changes the nature of production from a synchronous process to asynchronous. For example, a transfer line requires everything to run in sequence and if there are any variations required, they must be communicated to the production line in synchronization with the part/subassembly moving down the line. If any part/subassembly gets out of sequence there is chaos. In this new environment, each part/subassembly moving through the transfer line “instructs” each machine what the production requirements are to meet its unique specification.

In a sense this is like the story of a group of blind men touching an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant.  

As long as we keep an open mind and collaborate, there is a bright future for manufacturing with the application of new technology.

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