After water and steam power, mass production and automation through electronics and IT, the manufacturing industry is on the brink of its fourth industrial revolution – the key word is Industry 4.0.
In the course of Web 2.0 and social media, consumers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. They are informing themselves about products and services, analyzing them and expect maximum flexibility from manufacturers. That's because they no longer wish to buy the products that companies are offering them. They want to decide what they spend their money on. This strong trend towards customization necessitates highly flexible serial production that integrates customers and business partners into the value-added chain and is based on cross-industry partnerships. The desire for the flexibilization of production facilities and steps is therefore the main driver of the Industry 4.0 concept.
On the one hand, manufacturers are aiming for standardization and high unit numbers, and on the other hand customers are demanding highly customized products. Production in Industry 4.0 offers solutions for both requirements – through networking, self-configuration and self-diagnosis.
Cyber-physical systems are revolutionizing production.
The step towards Industry 4.0 is made possible by cyber-physical systems (CPS), which unite the physical and virtual worlds. As CPS, intelligent machines, storage systems and production facilities independently exchange data, initiate manufacturing steps and mutually control each other. In Industry 4.0, production essentially organizes itself. All involved means of production and products are networked to each other, clearly identifiable and localizable. They are aware of their condition, know which steps are required in order to continue the production process and automatically initiate the next production step as well as logistics processes. "The use of cyber-physical systems," says Hagen Rickmann, Director at T-Systems, "will radically change the industrial manufacture of products worldwide and create enormous opportunities for both businesses and consumers."
Combine harvester talks to tractor
Initial successful projects have shown the opportunities that Industry 4.0 offers. Agricultural machine manufacturer CLAAS networks harvest machines and tractors for intelligent grain harvesting via sophisticated information and communication technology by T-Systems. Here Industry 4.0 becomes Farming 4.0 in the agricultural industry. The combine harvester communicates directly with the tractor via the cellular network. It emits a signal when the grain tank is full and calls the tractor and trailer to come pick up the grain directly at the harvester. This permits the harvest to continue without interruption, thereby saving the farmer both time and money, given that operating a combine harvester costs several thousand euros per hour. In the future, the intelligent "farm hand" might be able to do even more: It could be conceivable for current weather data to be incorporated into the harvest strategy, or for additional machine data to be analyzed with big data, for example, in order to optimize the availability in the machines' short harvest windows.
Industry 4.0 on the business agenda
The concept is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, with the founding of the "Industry 4.0 Project of the Future" by the federal government, the fourth industrial revolution has been given considerable impetus. Some 25 percent of component manufacturers for Germany's automotive industry have Industry 4.0 on the agenda. Among machine tool manufacturers, it's already 50 percent, and every single plant construction company without exception.
Secure communication and data security are necessary requirements for the success of Industry 4.0. Machines must be able to exchange encrypted information with each other and with all connected systems. The data streams that are created within the scope of Industry 4.0 may not be intercepted or manipulated in order to protect the company's expertise on the one hand and guarantee operational reliability and prevent sabotage on the other hand. In addition to needs-based encryption of the communication between the cyber-physical systems, a highly protected cloud platform must enable the confidentiality, integrity and availability of production and corporate data. With the Connected Industry Platform (CIP) by T-Systems, the first successful projects have already been completed and are pointing the way to the future, showing how the secure industrial production can be implemented. Industry 4.0 – today a central idea, tomorrow an essential part of the production concept.