The buzz at the recent Hannover Messe 2013 centered on a German industry initiative called "Industry 4.0" that automation suppliers believe will lead to increasing digitization, networking, and an ability for manufacturers to leverage productivity advances. The 4.0 reference is what Siegfried Russwurm, CEO of the Industry Sector and Siemens AG board member, said is the foundation of a fourth industrial revolution, which will be based on the use of cyber-physical systems.
At a press conference during the Fair, Russwurm said that while there is some way to go for Industry 4.0 to become a reality, it is already here in its infancy and industry is laying the essential foundations for its implementation.
"Never before has the world of manufacturing and production technology been changing as rapidly and fundamentally as today," Russwurm said. "The increasing penetration of IT and the growing integration of all industrial technologies are taking place in evolutionary steps from today's perspective. However, looking back, the completely IT-based interaction between human being, product, and machine could prove to be a real industrial revolution."
Russwurm said the heart of Industry 4.0 is the use of algorithms within cyber-physical systems that provide a way to select the best path for optimizing production. The product to be manufactured contains all of the necessary information on its production requirements, so that integrated production installations can consider the requirements of the entire value chain. Decentralized cyber-physical systems (CPS) then interact via embedded Internet-based technologies to create flexible decisions within the production process on the basis of this information.
During his presentation, Russwurm referenced the advanced algorithms required as enabling a "chess computer," which guides the production process and will need to be expanded to communicate more and more complex parameters. Humans will conceptualize and design the product, and determine the production rules and parameters. The CPS then simulates and compares production options on the basis of instructions, and proposes compliant, optimal production paths, which results in the selection of an optimal implementation.
During the show, a visitor could barely move from booth to booth without hearing more on this topic, in part because Industry 4.0 has a central place in the German government's high-tech strategy. But it is also part of a larger global discussion about the Internet of Things, and how innovative software systems and the use of big data will lead to an optimization of the entire production process.
Clearly for Siemens, some of the push is toward use of simulation technology to create a virtual optimization of the production process and an ability to integrate product and production lifecycles. But it is also clear, in the overview, that there will continue to be a strong push to use intelligent networking to link digital product planning with physical production and create seamless data integration from field-level devices all the way up to enterprise computing systems.
The undeniable trend is that the IT and industrial control worlds are becoming more closely united behind the need for tighter integration between factory data and machine networks. What is less clear is how the more complex