Industry 4.0 puts new demands on connection technology

  • July 20, 2015
  • HARTING Inc. of North America
  • Harting Inc. Of North America
  • Feature

By Andreas Huhmann; Strategy Consultant Connectivity & Networks; HARTING Technology Group, Espelkamp; SmartFactory KL - Board Member

Industry 4.0’s use of Cyber-Physical Systems has radically altered the face of industrial production. Still, Industry 4.0 will only become a reality when the cyber world and physical world are connected. This is as much a mission as it is a vision.

Until today, industrial facilities have largely followed a simple concept, a concept that is all about automation tasks that are performed by automation devices. These devices need to be connected to a central controller. That’s it - nothing more is necessary for this undoubtedly extremely powerful concept. The network is merely the vehicle for the industrial Ethernet fieldbus, or – stated in even more trivial terms – just the connecting line. From the perspective of automation, this is completely understandable and sufficient.

Industry 4.0, however, entails new demands on network technology and by extension on connection technology – production in Industry 4.0 needs to be more effective, more flexible and more powerful. Control functions shift from a central controller over to the system itself. This entails a radical conceptual change in the structure of production facilities: a strictly hierarchical system gives way to a decentralized one. Plans and systems are constructed in modular form, while control tasks are relocated in the system itself. The network becomes the crucial component.

What does Industry 4.0 mean for the field level?

For something that admittedly sounds so simple and logical, the implementation is dependent on a number of conditions, among which the integration of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) with the material world of production holds center stage.

Industry 4.0 is characterized by the integration of CPS (Cyber-Physical Systems) into IT applications. This integration should be as flexible as possible, meaning that the rigid arrangement employed in conventional production is broken up. This results in two areas that need to be melded.

The initial implementations revealed that the crucial interface lies between the autonomous system modules. These may be of conventional design, i.e. with central controller and decentralized I/O, however they can also be constructed from CPS. In any case, what distinguishes them is that the modules perform a completely self-contained service on the real object in the production process. The set-up of the modules can still be performed conventionally without compromising the advantages of Industry 4.0.

Modules at a production facility need to be able to be integrated into the production process at different locations in an extremely easy fashion and above all quickly. And different modules must be able to be deployed at these sites. These two key requirements mean that cabling takes on a different character. Deployment at varying locations becomes basic setup, while its use with various modules means it constitutes a basic service. Cabling is transformed into an infrastructure.

What will infrastructure look like in Industry 4.0 manufacturing?

Smart Factory infrastructure is currently in the definition phase. Ethernet will be used both for IT as well as automation. In addition, office buildings will employ application-neutral cabling according to ISO/IEC 11801, the standard provides specifications for setting up passive network infrastructure.

Smart Factory infrastructure is currently in the definition phase.

In brief:

  • Rigid arrangement employed in conventional production is broken up.
  • Cabling now becomes part of the infrastructure.
  • HARTING is intensively driving the development of Industry 4.0 infrastructure components forward.

If one applies this view to a production plant, this will entail integrating different modules into the network. In addition, all the lifelines that supply industry need to be considered, i.e. communications, 400 Volt power, compressed air, auxiliary power and other signals. Consequently, the required connections are numerous, which means that simple plug-and-produce will only become possible when the connections are integrated in one interface, i.e. in one connector. For example the Harting Han-Modular® modular connector system can make all lifelines available in one connector. The standardization of the module interface means that a decisive step has already been taken. Still, infrastructure development requires more than just this. In the case of industrial production, the module interface must be capable of offering a wide variety of functions in order to ensure simple and – above all – more secure operation. In addition to the module connector interface, this includes management with respect to diagnosis, identification of modules, energy measurement and energy switching, protection for power (400 Volts) as well as safety and real time communication.. These functions can be ensured by using active network components.

Industry 4.0 brings with it a new demand on network technology, and by extension on connection technology. Ideally a single connection could serve all production module requirements including power, compressed air, control & data communications.

HARTING is intensively participating in and driving the development of these Industry 4.0 infrastructure components forward. By way of example, HARTING’s smart Power Network Unit brings together the topic of the administration of communications and power. This infrastructure component supports industry-typical topologies via line and ring, thereby enabling infrastructure to be put in place which facilitates the flexible use of different production modules.


Andreas Huhmann studied physics and is currently active as strategy consultant Connectivity & Networks at HARTING KGaA. He leads the PNO passive network components working group for the PROFINET automation profile, and is a Board member of the SmartFactory KL. In addition to his activities concerned with convergent Ethernet communication platforms in industrial production, Mr. Huhmann is involved in the implementation of the industry 4.0 vision. E-Mail:

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