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Comment on “Industry 4.0”: Strategy recommendation of the Forschungsunion falls short

01.11.2012

On October 2 2012 the promoter group communication of the Forschungsunion Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft has handed over the final report of the working group “Industry 4.0” to representatives of the government in the Produktikonstechnisches Zentrum (PTZ) in Berlin. Under the title „protect the future of Germany as a production location – conversion recommendations for the future project Industry 4.0“ is explained what the working group understands by “Industry 4.0”, and in what the quintessential point of the recommended strategy is seen: „Cyber-Physical Production Systems (CPPS) create Smart Factories, the incarnation of the future project Industry 4.0.“ Unfortunately, only one part of the present radical change in the industry is hit with this.

Unfortunately, the reduction of cyber-physical  systems to cyber-physical production systems corresponds to the diminished look at the producing industry, like he rules in the society, in politics and in wide parts of the science: Producing industry = production. The fact that it is primarily the product which must be properly developed, so that its production is worthwhile at all, is swept under the table. The importance of the engineering, of the product development, falls once more short.

Indeed, the intelligence and the interlinking are marks of a real industrial revolution that is taking place today. Whether vehicles, refrigerators or the perfect example of the modern product, the smartphone – the interlinking with other products and the whole world via Internet and Apps in the Cloud lets products become systems under systems, which is of course also true for the products of the investment goods industry needed for their production, assembly and delivery. But German enterprises are not furthermore world market leaders only with automation plants, but with a plenty of products which apparently still nobody develops as well as our engineers. White goods and cars are luminous examples.

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If we look only at manufacturing and assembly, we spend needlessly a lot of money which would be used much more meaningfully at other places. The products which were not developed as intelligent systems must be prepared afterwards with high efforts for the intelligent production systems. All products become intelligent systems. Therefore, the engineering, the development of all products must be adjusted to the new conditions first. Otherwise we soon do not need to produce any more.

  • The first industrial revolution brought the steam engine to the humanity. Absolutely new products became possible, and of course new ways of the production.
  • The second one brought the production line and with it the mass production and labour division. This concerned, primarily, the production.
  • The third one presented printed circuit boards and control systems. Even if this revolution allowed all products to get enriched and have new functionalities – the core was also this time the production, namely its automation.
  • The fourth industrial revolution concerns everything. It changes the product and makes it the intelligent bearer of service; it changes the commercial models and makes software suppliers out of enterprises who recently did not know yet whether they should not furthermore exclusively buy software from suppliers; it shifts the factory to a digital model which becomes flexible and mobile and can be integrated with its real conversion.

To limit this fourth industrial revolution to the production system, is not at all possible. But we can miss the moment at which we still play an important role as an industrial location. It would be misery.

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