The “4th Industrial Revolution”, better known as “Industry 4.0”, which was initiated by the German government and first announced at the Hanover Fair, started as early as 2011. The aim is to make manufacturing companies operate more intelligently and efficiently and to move them into the age of digitization. Above all, companies should be able to react faster and more flexibly to customer and production orders, improve the system and interaction between employees, machinery and process management and realize an optimized networking of all parties involved. The goal is therefore not only the optimization of individual production steps, but a complete upgrade of the entire value-added chain, even across locations.
The challenges of networking, automation and digitization are correspondingly high and even years after the introduction of the term, many companies are still at the beginning of their measures. In particular, internal IT systems and software are the biggest hurdles that can significantly slow down the transfer.
Industry 4.0 means the digitization of the production steps, from development to prototyping to physical delivery. Using CAD data and 3D systems, materials can be simulated virtually on the computer in the early stages of an order, and production processes can be designed and controlled. One goal can be to design automated production processes for later purposes/future orders in such a way that they can be transferred 1:1 to other concepts or adapted with only a few changes. The starting point for this is a complete mapping of all components, machines, people and infrastructures involved as well as the intelligent transfer into existing technical and business systems. The digital image can also be used to quickly detect faults and errors that can impair the smooth running of the entire production and supply chain. Even the wear of machines or components can be calculated in advance or during production, so that further production can be influenced. The challenge of developing new materials, such as aluminium with lower weight and increasing load-bearing capacity, can also be simulated on the computer using digital systems. This calculates and visualizes possible constellations that could occur during production. This also eliminates the trial and error principle as it has been used then and now. However, the prerequisite for this is the exact analysis of the material – down to the microstructure in the nanometer range.
Historically, there were three preliminary stages of industry 4.0 – hence the corresponding numbering used today. The first stage of industrialization (quasi Industry 1.0) was the revolution of steam and water power. The next stage heralded the start of mass or series production, already with electrical assistance. Subsequently, the use of information technology and electronics to automate production coined the term Industry 3.0, whereby all three preliminary stages were never specified in this form from any known source.
If the advantages of industrialization 4.0 are obvious, e.g. cost savings, shortening of time to market, efficient production, minimization of accidents and increase of safety, considerable disadvantages arise at the same time. Thus, industry 4.0 is pushing in the direction of production automation, so that the human being is replaced by machines or IT systems. This artificial intelligence will significantly increase the demand for complex jobs. However, this process will take a long time and will not play an (ethical) role for all manufacturing companies. Industry 4.0 is therefore still a project for the future.