Insights on the Impact of Industry 4.0 for Process Automation

  • October 17, 2017
  • Endress+Hauser, Inc.
  • Feature
Insights on the Impact of Industry 4.0 for Process Automation
Insights on the Impact of Industry 4.0 for Process Automation

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

Of the technology trends that I have observed in recent years, few developments have been more exciting than Industry 4.0 for Process Automation. Having the opportunity to attend several events and talk with professionals throughout the industry, it’s clear that Industry 4.0 concepts and technology are being applied to process automation. At the 2017 Hannover Fair, for instance, I was fortunate enough to meet with Michael Ziesemer, an executive with Endress+Hauser and president of ZVEI, to discuss the impact of Industry 4.0 for process industries.  This is not the first discussion I have had with Ziesemer, as I have found through many discussions with the engineering industry veteran, that his opinions and observations are always insightful.

As we noted, in addition to duties at  Endress+Hauser, Michael Ziesemer is also president of ZVEI - the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association - and one of their most recent significant developments has been the Industry 4.0 Reference Architectural Model, RAMI 4.0 and Industry 4.0 Component, which describes Industry 4.0 compliant production equipment.  Always the informative organization, ZVEI was also handing out an interesting brochure at Hannover Fair titled, Approaching the Smart Factory – ”Industrie 4.0” Creates Value Networks


What Is the Meaning of Industry 4.0 for Process Automation?

Industry 4.0 initially focused primarily on discrete manufacturing, but the technology quickly evolved and now there is a growing focus on applying Industry 4.0 concepts to process automation as well. The end goal for organizations is to achieve a holistic integration of automation, business information, and manufacturing execution function to improve all aspects of production and commerce across company boundaries for greater efficiency. “This year’s Hannover theme says it well, Integrated Industry Creating Value, this underlines the commercialization of all that has started,” explained Ziesemer, “When we look in the process industries it started a little later, this has to do with the industrial structure of Germany’s automotive industry being a dominating force.” 

He went on to share that Endress+Hauser has already witnessed customers, particularly in the chemical industry, that have already started industry 4.0 projects and are underlining the importance of these initiatives for process manufacturers.  “When we look into the goals process manufacturers have there is a big difference from automotive or discrete manufacturing,” Ziesemer shared. He went on to give a specific example. “Taking one of our big chemical accounts, leaving the name aside, they said the goal is to get rid of the people in the night shift with the exception of the fire brigade, that would mean 30 to 40 people instead of 2,500,” Ziesemer revealed, “What does that mean? You have to substitute all these ears and noses of all these people by an automated structure. “

So what would be the solution for this effort? “Nobody is willing to install cables, so has to be a lot of wireless sensors,” answered Zeisemer. He further advocated that existing facilities looking to start efforts like this should start with an audit of all the controls and instrumentation and ensure everything is properly calibrated.  Only then should the facility start the digitalization process in certain parts of the plant, taking a stepwise approach to fulfill the vision. 

Michael Ziesemer, Endress+Hauser

The Industry 4.0 Impact on Process Automation



A growing component of Industry 4.0, wireless networks came up in our conversation as well, as I asked Ziesemer about his customers general comfort with wireless.  He commented that, in general, people see wireless as reliable and they don’t really care what wireless standard is used, so long as it maintains that reliability. Further, we both observed the growing influence of IT and how more of the related communications could very well be Wi-Fi, given the availability and low cost.



Analytics has been one of the biggest early buzzes of Industry 4.0 excitement. This is because whatever sensors exist in a machine/facility, that information can be used by analytics to improve maintenance and operations. This means, for the automation industry, a potential major change in competitive landscape. Ziesmer emphasized this point in an interesting anecdote:

“I was invited a few months ago to a big Amazon conference. Amazon is the market leader in cloud and I asked them two questions: Number one: How do I get my data into your cloud? Can you do already OPC UA integration? The answer was yes. The second question was really interesting; How do I use the data?”

 Ziesemer went on to share how Amazon has mathematical and analytics functions already. He cited an example of energy efficiency and noted, “Here Amazon is becoming a competitor. They are writing applications with users that understand what they need.” 


The Bottom Line Impact of Industry 4.0 for Process Automation

As Ziesemer noted, the impact is already being seen in some process industries, particularly the pharmaceutical and chemical segments.“ They all have started,” Zeisemer claimed, “Is it an established business? No, it is in the launch phase, just starting to commercialize.”

This concerns and confuses some people. As Zeisemer heard in one Hannover Fair conference, one person asked very succinctly, “Is something stopping this trend?”

As far as the process industry is concerned, Ziesemer’s experience has seen process automation people to be very structured and traditional in their thinking, unlike IT people who look more at what is available and how can it be leveraged .  They apply existing technologies and components out of the box.  As Zeisemer explained “Will this meet all availability and reliability requirements? maybe, not everything closed loop and critical?”

He emphasized, however, that facilities may not be preparing adequately for their future. “When I talk to customers some are very proactive, some are half active, and others do not want it, they do not like it and do not want to do it.”  Ziesemer laughed, “Well, that sounds to me as if you don’t like the weather! It will still come.”

On the whole, Ziesemer believes that the process industry will take advantage of technology developed from high volume markets, including automobiles, smart homes and consumer electronics, which will eventually drive cost down and function up. He sees a future where edge computing and mathematical calculations are done on the sensor, he sees a future where IT and automation are merged and working together. May such an efficient and connected future on the horizon for process automation. It would seem to be a very bright future indeed.


Related Articles

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..