The fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – is the consequence of the changed production conditions in Germany and Europe. One key objective is assuring the competitiveness of German and European industry in international competition in the supply chains.
It is no longer only individual companies or company groups that are in competition for the favour of the global customer. The performance of these production networks is decisive for the success or failure in global markets.
Customer wishes that are becoming increasingly individual lead to a very wide range of variants, with production more frequently of a batch size of just one. This has far-reaching effects on company processes that can only be managed if manufacturing processes are integrated not only horizontally but above all vertically — up to the level of automation. To manage this high variant diversity economically, companies have to be extremely agile. This can only be achieved by creating smaller units and through cooperation, including joint value creation, between different companies.
Globalisation of demand goes hand in hand with the globalisation of production. "Local content" plays an increasingly greater role in conquering foreign markets. Managing the resulting requirements for production control and company management requires an efficient networking of all locations and value creation partners. The networking of various companies and the necessity of communication between the many different software systems available today is just one of the significant challenges. In addition to the technical issues, intercultural collaboration between the people involved in the processes must be considered.
The demographic change demands new concepts in the design of the production environment. The ageing company with a simultaneously declining labour force potential requires, in addition to an increasing level of automation in production, modified interaction concepts with the production process. The interaction will be aligned with the user to a significantly greater extent and must consider the given work context. This also means that, from the large quantity of information to be expected, the information relevant to the specific situation must be filtered out and presented. In addition to tools, new interaction concepts also require people with the appropriate training.
The change in values is making people focus on new or different aspects when planning their lives. Social and economic sustainability is more important now than ever before.
Production systems are shaped by cyber-physical systems (CPS). One of the main properties of this CPS is the advanced networking of the production systems using Internet standards. It is not only the machines that are communicating with each other — the work pieces are communicating more and more with the production technology. To do this, resources and workpieces have an identity in the Internet of Things.
The decentrally organised production units have an unprecedented level of agility. The interaction between workpieces and production technology in smart factories allows flexible and application-based reconfiguration of production systems. The resources and capabilities of these production systems are visible and available in the Internet of Things ("Production as a service").
A key factor for the success of the smart factory concept is the integrative development of products and production systems. First and foremost, this means that the interdisciplinary collaboration, from the product development process to the development of the corresponding production technology, must be raised to a new level within the company. Agile production systems require equally agile software systems for the planning, simulation and control of manufacturing processes (Internet of Services). Today's centralist concepts will be replaced with smart, high-resolution decentralised systems as a result of the gradual development of CPS.
High-resolution production control systems use huge amounts of data from sophisticated sensors to assess the actual situation. The data and information gained must be prepared taking into account the given context and are used to control the current production parameters in a targeted manner.
It is no longer merely an issue of establishing a reporting system and assessing a situation "post mortem". The data collected (big data) controls the process and aids the elimination of faults in real time.
Industry 4.0 must be understood as a future concept for society as a whole, "Society 4.0" so to speak, in which people, perhaps more than ever, are at the forefront. The profiles of certain job descriptions are certain to change or be completely reformed. The increasing diversity of products with short delivery cycles and simultaneously decreasing numbers of specialist personnel available can present an additional challenge for many companies. It is also important not to forget that the urban production of the future is moving closer to where people live. This will require different logistics concepts for production supply and disposal.
People are not being disregarded, quite the opposite in fact. Their requirements must be taken into account to a much greater extent in corporate planning in the future. The Industry 4.0 eco system consists not only of smart factories and intelligent products with a memory that control production. It is a question of allowing people to perform highquality and creative work and giving them the opportunity to achieve a work/life balance – with just as much flexibility as the production systems of the future that will be controlled by people.
Photos (top to bottom): Thinkstock