Machine Safety: Industry 4.0 and how it could impact machine safety

The fourth industrial revolution could be well underway 10 to 20 years from now, say industry experts. The basis for this belief is a smart industrial intranet and Internet that connects machines and products using technologies like wireless and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies to gain knowledge and improve efficiency without human intervention. Machine safety has a role.


In only 10 to 20 years industry experts believe that we could well be in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. The basis for this belief is a smart industrial intranet able to connect machines and products using technologies like wireless and radio frequency identification (RFID) to gain knowledge and improve efficiency without human intervention. Is machine safety included?

Industry 4.0 is seeded in Germany and is coined to be industry’s fourth industrial revolution. The previous revolutions are:

1. The first industrial revolution is characterized by the introduction of mechanical production powered by water or steam. For example – the first mechanical loom in 1784.

2. The second industrial revolution is characterized by the introduction of mass production based on the division of labor and powered by electrical energy. For example – Henry Ford’s automotive production lines in 1908.

3. The third industrial revolution is characterized by the introduction of electronics and information technology (IT) for dramatic improvement in control systems, automation, and production output. This stage began in the 1970s with the introduction of PLCs, safety PLCs, and smart wireless devices like sensors.

It’s only just recently that machine safety was allowed to leave hard wired guarding applications and re-join the automation curve that began in the 1970s. Now, machine safety is a part of electronics and IT arena of the third industrial revolution. Otherwise, machine safety would still be relegated to the second stage. But, since machine safety for many applications is now part of the platform for launching into the fourth industrial revolution, is it included? Or, will machine safety be left behind again, such as in the transition to the third industrial revolution?

Several automation suppliers are already developing inroads into this technology realm. One open network group is EPSG (Ethernet Powerlink Standardization Group) stepping forward with Industry 4.0. Managing director, Stefan Schönegger, says: “Safety measures that limit the flexibility of production processes or hinder them from achieving their full potential are clearly counterproductive. Confining individual machines to safety cages is not the way to go. If our goal is to have machines and production cells adapt their configurations based on individual work pieces, we need the freedom to add or reorganize machine modules dynamically.”

In my opinion, as I understand Industry 4.0, production lines, plants, or multiple plants will need dynamic capabilities, without human intervention, for configurable units, while maintaining their safety compliance. Won’t this place a huge demand on safe high speed network communications? Maybe the “Internet of Things” can help, as distributed previously unconnected devices exchange data, feeding control loops that optimize efficiency.

Does this sound like HAL 9000, the intelligent computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? 

J.B. Titus, CFSE

Has this presented you with any new perspectives? Do you have some specific topic or interest that we could cover in future blog posts? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

Related articles:

Internet of Things - refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999.

Industry 4.0 - Wikipedia

Industry 4.0: Agility in Production? 


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