Commentary: Industry 4.0

future of production | “The internet is just a passing fad.” This was said by no less a person than Bill Gates.

That was in 1993, and the founder of Microsoft, who was otherwise so successful, was very wide of the mark on this occasion: As early as 1994, ten million people across the globe were surfing the internet, and now around three billion have access to that worldwide network.

Today, barely 26 years after the computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee laid the foundations for the World Wide Web, we stand once again on the threshold of a new technological age. This project is called “Industry 4.0,” and the debate surrounding it is similar to what we saw in the early days of the internet: To some, Industry 4.0 is no more than a buzzword – a new fad. To others, it is the start of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Germany’s national “Plattform Industrie 4.0” (“Platform Industry 4.0”) – a joint project by the industry associations BITKOM, VDMA, and ZVEI – has described the phenomenon clearly (see the box on page 13): it is a new stage in the organization and management of the whole value chain throughout the life cycle of products, including related services. The basis is the availability of all relevant information in real time through the networking of all entities involved in value creation. This generates dynamic, self-organizing value-creation networks, which can be optimized according to various criteria.

We at thyssenkrupp are certain that Industry 4.0 will triumph in a similar way to the internet. The digital networking of factories and machines, and of customers, suppliers, and producers, is a fundamental transformation. For this reason, we are actively involved in the Executive Board and the steering group of Plattform Industrie 4.0: We are helping to push this concept forward in Germany. Our country is currently regarded as a pioneer in manufacturing for the future, and has a good chance of gaining a leading position in this field for the long term. However, this requires industry to adapt as swiftly as possible to the new challenges.

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