The nine pillars of Industry 4.0


Industry 4.0 describes a future state of industry characterized by thorough digitization of economic and production flows. It requires horizontal integration at every step in the production process, in interaction with machines. In the globally interconnected world of Industry 4.0, machines also interact with one another.

The Boston Consulting Group has identified Industry 4.0’s nine technological pillars:

  • Autonomous robots. Long used to tackle complex tasks, robots provide an ever wider range of services and are becoming more autonomous, flexible, and cooperative. They will interact with one another and work safely with humans (the term “cobotics” is used to describe robots helping operators perform their tasks). Eventually, they will be able to learn from humans.
  • Simulation. 3D simulation of product development, material development and production processes will become widespread. It will leverage real-time data to mirror the physical world in a virtual model that will include machines, products, and humans. Operators will be able, for example, to test and optimize the machine settings for the next product even before production starts, thereby reducing machine setup times and improving quality.
  • Horizontal and vertical system integration. Today, information systems are not fully integrated. Companies are rarely connected with their suppliers and customers. Engineering design departments are seldom linked directly to production within its own organization. But with Industry 4.0, the entire organization will be interconnected, and companies will be connected with one another.
  • The Industrial Internet of Things. Few machines are currently fitted with sensors and interconnected. With the Industrial Internet of Things, an ever greater number of products will incorporate intelligence and be connected using standard protocols. This will decentralize analytics and decision-making, enabling real-time responses.
  • Cybersecurity. The days of closed, unconnected operational management systems are over. Connectivity and communication protocols are becoming the norm. Protecting information systems and manufacturing lines from cybercrime threats is becoming a critical issue. Sophisticated identity and machine access management systems will be used to provide secure, reliable communications.
  • The Cloud. The operating processes of Industry 4.0 require more data sharing across sites and companies. The performance of cloud technologies will improve, achieving response times of mere milliseconds. This will foster the development of an ever greater number of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MESs) based on cloud-stored machine data.
  • Additive manufacturing. Companies have just begun to adopt 3D printing for prototyping and unit production. With Industry 4.0, these technologies will be chosen for their very high performance in producing small batches of  customized products. Decentralized systems will reduce transportation and inventory management costs.
  • Augmented reality. Augmented-reality tools are still in their infancy, but they are paving the way for new services. For example, they will provide operators with the real-time information they need for faster decision-making and for improving work processes.
  • Big data and analytics. There are still massive sets of untapped data in the industrial world. Their analysis will optimize production quality, save energy, and improve services. Here as well, the goal is to allow real-time decision-making.

Called “Industry 4.0” in Germany, this manufacturing revolution is elsewhere reflected in expressions such as “Made in China 2025” and “Manufacturing Renaissance” (US). This concept is the subject of widespread discussion but its impact in today’s industry remains relatively modest.

German experts reckon that we are now at 3.8, and that it will take a decade or so before we arrive at 100% Industry 4.0 manufacturing. No company will move from 3.0 to 4.0 in a single step. Despite its speed, this migration will take place in stages.

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