Thursday, 11 April 2013

Industry 4.0 – ready for new wave of innovation

Public discourse about Industry 4.0, the fourth stage of the industrial revolution, is growing vast and rapidly. Almost no day for the last three weeks that the topic was not mentioned in the news in Germany. Working groups are set-up, analyses are being made, strategies are defined.

For those of you who haven't come across the term yet: Industry 4.0 means the ubiquitous support of all industrial process and all machinery by IT technology. What has long been discussed under headings like convergence, smart factory, Internet of Things, process innovation etc. is now subsumed in the catchy concept of Industry 4.0.

Germany is on the forefront of strategy-building regarding Industry 4.0. This may seem only logical given the fact that Germany is a key global producer and exporter of best-of-class machinery of all kinds. Staying on top of technological progress and driving the new wave of innovation that comes with Industry 4.0 is almost a must for an industrial player of the kind of Germany.

The German government had taken leadership more than a year go putting in place an expert group to develop a strategy with recommendations for actions on Industry 4.0. The group's report was published last autumn and is available in German on the website of the German ministry for Education and Research. Henning Kagermann, former CEO of SAP, played a leading role in the expert group and is a major thinker and strategist dealing with the topic area.

Academia and Industry in Germany have also taken up the catch phrase. The German industry association BITKOM has made Industry 4.0 the key topic for the trade showHannover Messe taking place this week. The engineering associations VDE and VDI dedicate special working groups to the topic preparing the grounds for German industry to be a global leader on Industry 4.0. And for academia the highly renown Professor Wahlster, guru onartificial intelligence at the University of Saarland, has developed in the key spokesman and thinker on the topic.

I am sure that Industry 4.0 will shape the next decade. It is not just a sexy catch word that will soon disappear. Far from that. It is the concept level where many things ongoing today come together. It covers the full spectrum of our economy – from Human Resources to Automation. It is where technologies meet, get integrated, be it into huge machinery or smallest devices. It's IT being embedded everywhere. So it goes deep... And it has the potential for boosting innovation.

Industry 4.0 is, for sure, also a key topic for standardisation. To a large extend it is all about standards. Total automation requires standards and interoperability. Things need to work together. Many standards for Industry 4.0 are already available. In order to be able to close gaps first, standards bodies also get ready to address the topic in an effective and efficient way.

What I see is that more systems standardisation work will be done – In order to provide sample infrastructures and identify gaps. Smart Grid, eMobility – all of this goes into this direction. And end-to-end scenarios and use cases are required. Standards bodies will want to promote the uptake of new technologies and standards and will, therefore, address the topic in such a way so that end-to-end scenarios are available.

And standards bodies will have to collaborate even more because standards from different technology areas need to come together. I see in particular IEC and CENELEC in Europe which need to collaborate closely with the leading global ICT standards bodies. This requires a new, integrative approach. New trust and relationship building. And new processes for collaboration across boundaries.

In my opinion Industry 4.0 has a huge potential regarding innovation. It will have major impact on standardisation, on how standardisation is done – and in which bodies. It will provide the grounds for the success path for embedded technologies. Everybody working in standardisation can be looking forward with excitement of Industry 4.0 to evolve further.