Smart Machines & Factories
Industry 4.0 and the language barrier
Published:  12 December, 2018

Various different terms have evolved to describe the Industry 4.0 phenomenon: but are they helping industry to understand the changes ahead or is language a barrier to implementation? Aaron Blutstein looks for answers in conversation with Steve Sands (SS) of Festo.

What key concepts would you define when describing Industry 4.0?

SS: There are three umbrella terms that we need to understand in terms of their inter-relationships.

• Digitalisation is the trend that started with the 3rd Industrial Revolution, introducing electronics, PLCs, digital sensors, etc. This trend is accelerating rapidly and, for me, digitalisation incorporates all the other exciting technologies that are opening up.

• The 4th Industrial Revolution is a term that describes this increased pace of digitalisation: as illustrated by the rise of Cloud-based connectivity and services, the gathering and use of Big Data and the application of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

• Industry 4.0 [originally Industrie 4.0] was one of the key accelerators for this trend of increasing digitalisation. It was originally a German government initiative, commissioned as their manufacturing sector was shaking off the effects of the 2008 / 2009 recession. It was a clear, government-supported action plan, defined by a strategy and Road Map, and backed by a substantial investment. Even more importantly, it galvanised the considerable resources of government, industry and academia to work together, using already well-established structures such as the Fraunhofer Institutes.

Do you think referring to the process as the 4th Industrial Revolution is helpful?

SS: The term revolution can be associated with negative images of upheaval: but essentially it is a period of disruption that delivers lasting change. While the transition can be disturbing, it is also an exciting period in which new ideas and ways of working will emerge. I have no doubt that the 4th Industrial Revolution will alter our relationship with technology forever. The benefits of digitalisation – better connectivity, adaptability and resource efficiency (to name a few) – will be astronomical. Revolution is therefore a perfect description of the transformation we are experiencing: but it is a revolution with a difference. This one is based less on the technology of the machines than in their organisation, communication and networking, enabling them to work smarter – and it has a clear plan, or road map.

If we have a plan, where are all the smart factories?

SS: This is a common question, raised by sceptics who won’t believe in Industry 4.0 until they see it. It’s like someone witnessing the introduction of the Stephenson Rail gauge and then complaining that they can’t see the Bullet Train. You can’t expect to travel on a high speed train while the rail standards are still being worked out.

That said, Industry 4.0 is laying down some tracks. There are already well defined case studies, and a good starting point for information is the Aspects of the Research Roadmap in Application Scenarios paper, (available on the website). While it is still early for the development of an entire manufacturing facility based on Industry 4.0 principles, many leading manufacturers, including Festo, have already put many of the technology elements into lighthouse factories or applications. They are reaping the early benefits, as well as being able to visualise and share the vision.

What is happening now to deliver Industry 4.0?

SS: A fundamental requirement, identified at the outset, is the need for common standards. These are essential to enabling the open exchange of information using common languages throughout product lifecycles to deliver significant improvements in manufacturing and production. The working groups set up by the Industry 4.0 initiative identified clear application scenarios for the ways in which technology could be applied. The terms can require some explanation, but its easy enough to get the gist with scenarios such as: Order Controlled Production, Adaptable Factory, Self Organising Adaptive Logistics, Value Based Services, Transparency and Adaptability, Operator Support in Production, Smart Product Development, Innovative Product Development and Circular Economy.

To enable this open exchange of data and information to take place, the terminology has to be in place to ensure a common language is being spoken and the machine conversations make sense. These require certain standards – for example, defining a standard control architecture [RAMI] considering the IT hierarchy, control structures and production life-cycle. We also need a standard template for structuring and enabling information to be passed between devices, machines and solutions in an open, readable but secure way [OPC-UA]. Many of us can see the amazing things that can be done with Digital Twins – but again we need a uniform way of describing our physical products in the virtual world.

There are some excellent proposals for standardisation, but the adaptation of frameworks like AutomationML (and its adoption by the diverse providers and users of the technology) requires consideration of the natural conflicts. For example, is it better to gather a high quantity of excellent data but accept compromises to speed; and what about the increased cost of creation, storage, transmission and utilisation of large quantities of data in the Cloud? What type and depth of data is right for everyone? Can a standard be flexible enough to meet everyones needs and still be a standard? In total, the working groups identified more than 20 technology areas that would need to be addressed. Being pragmatic, they decided not to attempt to redraw more than 1,000 new standards that may or may not gain wide acceptance, but to seek to create alignment and extension of existing standards that would enable the vision to be achieved faster and more securely.

So how long will this revolution actually take?

SS: The Industry 4.0 roadmap defined an incredibly fast 20 year revolution stretching from 2015 to 2035. This was reconfirmed in the latest edition of the Roadmap V3.0 published in March 2018. So, we are just three years into a 20-year journey – and we are actually making a lot of progress.

There are some excellent demonstrators of IIoT / Industry 4.0 technologies working now. There are many more examples of the excellent use of digitalisation, Cloud-based technologies, Big Data gathering, visualisation and analysis using extremely clever predictive and artificial intelligence.

To maintain the momentum, we just need to be clear about what we are looking for in terms of deliverables, have a good understanding of the terminologies involved and appreciate the timescales. As a manufacturer of Industry 4.0 enabling technologies, Festo is therefore committed to helping original equipment manufacturers and their customers – the end users – to identify the opportunities and develop a business case that justifies their investment in this exciting future.

For further information about how to begin implementing Industry 4.0, together with a glossary of common terms, please visit: