Smart Machines & Factories
Industry 4.0: The future is AI
Published:  07 May, 2019

Festo Member of the Management Board Dr Frank Melzer has taken over as head of the Industry 4.0 platform steering committee for the digitisation of business in Germany. Smart Machines & Factories’ Aaron Blutstein caught up with him in Holland to find out which direction Industry 4.0 is heading.

One of the key criticisms often labeled at the UK when talking about Industry 4.0, is that we are perceived to be playing catch up. However when speaking to Dr Frank Melzer - head of the Industry 4.0 platform steering committee for the digitisation of business in Germany, he told me that he didn’t think there was so much of a difference. He explained that perhaps Germany was a little more advanced, but added you could argue one way or the other as to how much.

He explained that the principle idea of Germany’s Industry 4.0 platform, which he now heads the steering committee for, is basically to spread the word to German manufacturers and especially SMEs to make sure they don’t fall behind. For Melzer, SMEs are the backbone of industrial automation in Germany, and concerns regarding SMEs not adopting an Industry 4.0 roadmap is as much a concern in Germany as it is in the UK.

Industry 4.0 platform is a German Government initiative driven by the Government to drive digitalisation and drive the concept. Melzer says, the Government aims to have very active industry representatives “because it says Germany needs the gas from industry...” He explains that there is a very close discussion between government and industry to resolve the barriers. And this, he adds, is very positive for SMEs, because they cannot run that discussion individually.

Industry 4.0 platform is also being driven globally by the German Government in two ways: First to support industry and the companies behind that, and secondly also to promote the concept of data driven industrialisation. He emphasises that the earlier we agree on standards, and certain principle procedures and ideas, the easier it will be to adopt. However he warns that if everyone has their own standards this will have the opposite effect.

Direction of Industry 4.0

One of Melzer’s key focuses during his tenure as head of the Industry 4.0 platform steering committee, will be on technology development, in particular, the further development of decentralised, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence, which he says provide us with excellent tools for optimising industrial production processes in the future.

Looking to the future and the direction of Industry 4.0 is taking, Melzer says artificial intelligence, popped up five years ago as a result of the availability of computers being much more designed for it. In the future, he says, there will be a lot of computing power so we will see much more artificial intelligent machine learning within industry. Although he believes the industry itself is adopting it very slowly because it is highly fragmented, he sees it as having has tremendous potential, highlighting the pace and scope of mobile phones: “If you look at your phone and see how much artificial intelligence it has compared to what we have in industry you would be totally surprised. So you can see the potential.

“My view is that we are a couple of years behind the technology driven areas. So we have to look for other sectors which are running up front and use that.”


Another area of focus for Melzer is skills – very much the same as in the UK. The challenge for Melzer is that changes as a consequence of Industry 4.0 will be faster than ever before, and that’s a challenge for everyone, from Government to industry: “Digitalisation is driving the change of competence in our society faster than any industrial change before it.” As a result, one of his main focuses during his tenure as head of the Industry 4.0 platform steering committee for the digitisation of business in Germany, will be the qualification and further training of skilled workers.

Some of the biggest concerns resulting from Industry 4.0 is the perception that robotics, A.I., and the Internet of Things may have an irrevocable, negative impact on livelihoods.

Bill Gates, in an interview with Quartz magazine, said that governments “should tax companies’ use of robots, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment”.

Meanwhile PricewaterhouseCoopers published a report in in 2017 that said up to 30% of existing UK jobs are susceptible to automation from robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) by the early 2030s – although in many cases “the nature of jobs will change rather than disappear”. Manufacturing was one of the sectors singled out as most likely to be affected by this paradigm shift.

For Melzer the main issue in terms of jobs, is that you will lose more manual work and this will be transferred to knowledge work - that’s the big shift in his opinion. However he highlights: “If you look positively at it, the jobs will be more meaningful, more motivational in the future, because you will use a lot more creativity rather than doing repetitive, boring, tasks that make you tired because we are not designed for doing 24 hours of the same stuff. In fact for the people themselves, I think it’s a good outlook.”

Although he says things might not go completely smoothly, the benefits of these changes including increased wealth creation as more low paid jobs get automated, will ultimately result in a positive outcome for society.


The Industry 4.0 platform

The Industry 4.0 platform is the central network in Germany for advancing digital transformation in production. More than 300 people from over 150 organisations are actively involved in the platform, working shoulder to shoulder between politics, business, science, trade unions and associations. As one of the largest international and national networks, the platform supports German companies – in particular medium-sized businesses – to implement Industry 4.0, especially by making existing practical examples of Industry 4.0 known to companies and spreading them across the country. It also provides concrete recommendations for action and refers to support services and test environments. The numerous international co-operations of the platform underline its strong role in the international discussions around the topic of Industry 4.0.



Festo involvement in the Industry 4.0 platform

Festo has been involved in the research advisory board and several working groups since the founding of the Industry 4.0 platform. The experts are particularly involved in the topics of reference architectures, standards, security of networked systems and qualification.


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