Six ways to prepare for Industrie 4.0 and what companies should expect

The fourth industrial revolution, Industrie 4.0, is changing how manufacturing produces items and the social, technological, and environmental changes in our world are also having a major impact on mass production and customization. Companies looking to take advantage of Industrie 4.0 should start with six basic actions that are highlighted.

By Mike James January 26, 2017

In April 2013 at Hannover Messe, a consortium of universities, research institutions and industrial companies in Germany presented a report which called for investment, awareness, ideas and further research to help realize—Industrie 4.0—a term used to describe a wide variety of innovations in information technology (IT), manufacturing technology and materials that will lead to the fourth industrial revolution.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) in the U.S. is supporting the development of smart manufacturing—systems that integrate manufacturing intelligence in real-time across an entire production operation.

Industrialized countries have spotted an opportunity. Each wants to be at the forefront of the new industrial revolution—a revolution which is expected to bring manufacturing back to Europe and North America, and create high value-added jobs.

Social, technology, and green changes are driving the revolution, which will lead to the individualization of mass production. Everything from cars to shoes will be made to your specifications, but still mass produced.

This is a social change and, as a result, people are willing to pay around 10-15% more for a unique product. At the same time, they expect to be able to get their hands on their purchase almost immediately, and this is driving the trend to make products locally.

Green is having a major impact too; we do not want any waste, and we do not want to use precious fuel to transport goods unnecessarily. Again, this will lead to small-scale, localized manufacturing.

In the fourth industrial revolution, manufacturing plants will be self-organizing. Products and machines will be able to talk to each other, and they will have chips with detailed manufacturing instructions embedded in them.

Then there is the concept of cyber-physical systems. Our plants, products and equipment will first be built in simulated environments and virtual reality will be used to check the feasibility, layout, quality and volume that can be achieved. Not a foundation stone will be laid of the physical factory before the virtual factory has been perfected.

However, the question still on the table is "What steps do manufacturers need to take to prepare for Industrie 4.0?" We know that manufacturing will be very different in 20 years’ time, but we also know that technologies, materials, information technology (IT) and society are changing fast. So we will have to be prepared to be flexible, putting in place processes and technologies that are adaptable and will achieve a much faster return on investment.

Organizations looking to make a change should start with these six basic actions:

  1. Establish a team to study Industrie 4.0
  2. Get the team to study what exactly it is and how it will impact the business
  3. Encourage the team to attend events and ensure they meet regularly to brainstorm ideas
  4. Control and direct current investments
  5. Experiment with new technologies
  6. Be willing to try out different strategies, even if that means risking losing money. The ones that succeed will be the ones prepared to try out new ideas.

When charting the progress we’ve made through each of the industrial revolutions, it’s clear to see that as we’ve progressed, so has the degree of complexity in the technology we rely on. Back in the late 1700s and early 1800s we learned how to harness water and steam power to enable mechanical production.

Nearly a century later, we developed assembly lines and started using electrical energy for mass production—the first powered assembly lines were used at scale in the Cincinnati slaughterhouses during the 1870s. More recently, IT systems have been developed to further automate production. And today, we’re starting to use cyber-physical systems to create connected factories, devices, and products.

Mike James is chairman for MESA International Board of Directors. This article originally appeared on MESA International’s blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

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