Industry 4.0 – Factory of tomorrow: Networking production and IT

One topic in particular took center stage at this year’s Hannover Messe: Industry 4.0 – and the hope for a new industrial revolution that goes hand in hand with it.

What does Industry 4.0 mean?

Broadly speaking, Industry 4.0 describes the closer networking of industrial processes with modern IT technologies with the aim of creating an intelligent factory (smart factory). This should enable greater individualization of mass-produced products. The automation technology used should increasingly check, configure and optimize itself and provide better support for people.

And indeed, in terms of software and hardware technology, we are not that far away from planning and controlling production and procurement processes in a “self-optimizing, self-diagnosing and self-adapting” way without human intervention. Following Moore’s Law, hardware and software have evolved dramatically.

Today, computer technology makes things possible that would have seemed like science fiction 25 years ago. Alongside lean management and the Toyota Production System, these advances in IT technology are probably the most important drivers for the further development of planning and control methods.

Wanted: Human 4.0

However, this is usually ignored: However, Industry 4.0 also requires People 4.0, who define the processes that are then carried out largely autonomously by the technology. The problem is that our mentality and ways of thinking have not kept pace with developments in IT and PPS. As a result, the actual progress made in forecasting, production control or scheduling is very modest in practice – despite broader and more differentiated technical support.

The reason: production control – i.e. scheduling, planning and forecasting – are statistically based processes. And we humans find these very difficult to deal with, which is why the statistical correlations are usually ignored in operational practice, even though they are well known from business organization research.

Another reason: conceptual deficits at management level. In most cases, there are no clear guidelines on how to achieve the desired corporate goal of the highest possible and sustainable earnings. Instead of the company’s overall goal, each division pursues its own one-dimensional divisional goal: whether optimal capacity utilization, short throughput times, on-time delivery, delivery capability, low inventories or process automation. As these objectives even contradict each other to some extent, it is not possible to derive a strategy for a value chain that is as economical as possible!

However, a consistent strategy of this kind for the economic design of the value chain is an essential prerequisite for planning and managing the new Factory 4.0. What is missing is a clear logistical positioning.

Just hype or revolution?

However, it is the human aspect in particular that will probably determine whether Industry 4.0 will actually herald a new industrial revolution or is just a brief hype – similar to CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) in the mid/end of the 1980s.

In 1989, together with colleagues from the Research Institute for Rationalization at RWTH Aachen University, I published extensive studies on the success factors of a CIM strategy under the title “CIM between claim and reality”. The result: The success of CIM depends 1/3 on the human factor, ¼ on the technology, 1/5 on the organization, 1/6 on the corporate culture and only 1/20 on the market. This formula probably still applies to Factory 4.0.

In addition to the technology, which is now mature, the human factor will therefore be decisive for the success of Industry 4.0. Companies that want to implement this revolution therefore need more than just engineers and computer scientists. Supply chain experts are also in demand to adapt the company’s organization to the needs of Industry 4.0. It is only through these adapted structures that the new, necessary ways of thinking will get into the heads of those responsible. And this will ultimately be the key to the success of Industry 4.0. The market will certainly be happy to accept it. Regardless of this, however, the overarching optimum remains the decisive goal even with Industry 3.0.

Picture of Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

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