Industry 4.0: the fourth industrial revolution – guide to Industrie 4.0 

The Internet of Things, the convergence of IT and OT, rapid application development, digital twin simulation models, cyber-physical systems, advanced robotics and cobots, additive manufacturing, autonomous production, consistent engineering across the entire value chain, thorough data collection and provisioning, horizontal and vertical integration, edge and big data analytics, AR/VR: these are some of the essential components of the fourth industrial revolution.

The value created by Industry 4.0 vastly exceeds the low-single-digit cost savings that many manufacturers pursue today (Boston Consulting Group)

Those are quite a lot of terms and components indeed. Yet, Industry 4.0 is a rather vast vision and, increasingly, vast reality. What makes it all the more fascinating (and at first sight complex) is that convergence of two worlds which have been disconnected thus far: Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) with the hyper-connected digital industry, the bridging of digital and physical, cyber-physical production systems and the Industrial Internet of Things as parts (and names) that describe this fourth industrial revolution.Despite the vastness, terminology and many concepts, in the end Industry 4.0 is about the digital transformation in and of industrial markets, in the beginning only manufacturing, and with a big role for the Industrial IoT, as we’ll see.

In this overview we make ‘Industrie 4.0’, as it’s originally called, tangible and look at and beyond the technologies and processes: as always, outcomes and goals need to come first.

Industry 4.0 is not just about manufacturing (anymore)Although the term Industry 4.0 and the reference architecture model behind it originate from Germany (hence ‘Industrie 4.0’), it’s clear that the vision – and reality – of the fourth industrial revolution has caught the attention of organizations across the globe as we’ll explore at the end of this article. Moreover, Industrie 4.0 is not just about manufacturing anymore (even if manufacturing is the main sector involved today).

So, although Industry 4.0 originally was only used for manufacturing (in contrast with other leading initiatives such as the Industrial Internet and the Industrial Internet Consortium or IIC), it is de facto going further. In the early days of the Industry 4.0 view we wouldn’t have been able to say that; it was a manufacturing initiative, period. Today, we clearly see how the several parties which were involved in Industry 4.0 themselves move it to smart transportation and logistics, smart buildings, oil and gas, smart healthcare and even smart cities.

An increasing number of vertical industries is adopting the technologies, concept and principles of Industry 4.0.We clearly see this expansion across other verticals on top of manufacturing in the material that gets published by leading Industry 4.0 institutessuch as the German national academy of science and engineering (acatech). This doesn’t mean that they (alone) are broadening the scope, the opposite is true (as well): the mentioned vertical industries (and others) are increasingly adopting the Industry 4.0 concept, principles and technologies. How else could it be? It’s not as if manufacturing lives in splendid isolation and, despite the specific characteristics, processes and priorities in manufacturing, the underlying technological and transformational traits do overlap in this hyper-connected age.The principles of Industry 4.0 have gone global, even if the term doesn’t ring a bell everywhere (the fourth industrial revolution is more widely recognized).

Industry 4.0 is a vision and journey. Organizations implement Industry 4.0 initiatives and prepare to turn the clearly document Industrie 4.0 vision, components, principles, technologies and architecture into reality, within their context.

This global diffusion of the Industrie 4.0 vision and technologies, at different speeds, is related with the universal challenges and possibilities across the globe and with the cross-fertilizations, enabled by collaborations with the US industry, the Japanese industry, EU industry initiatives and so forth. Still, there are several hurdles to take before the Industry 4.0 vision is realized in more companies than is the case today. More about how Industry 4.0 is a vision and a reality at the same time in the section on Industry 4.0 strategy and roadmaps.This being said, time for a deeper dive. As per usual, everything starts with understanding what exactly we are talking about, what are the benefits and how it is all evolving and impacting organizations in real life.

So, let’s start with the roots of Industrie 4.0 before diving even deeper into those mentioned frameworks and so forth.

The origins of Industrie 4.0

When Germany launched a project under the name ‘Industrie 4.0’ to digitalize manufacturing at the Hannover Messe in 2011, the government officials, industry leaders and academics who were working on the project probably had no idea that Industry 4.0 and specifically that fourth industrial revolution would become such a widely used concept.

Moving beyond its roots, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet are meeting in a global collaboration towards the digital transformation of manufacturing and other industries.

Despite the vision aspect, ‘Industry 4.0’, is a very real phenomenon, transforming manufacturing and other sectors into connected and digital manufacturing (and more) with additional benefits and a range of technological evolutions and possibilities to move beyond the sheer operation dimension towards the so-called fourth industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0 definition – the digital transformation of industry and the fourth industrial revolution

We define Industry 4.0 as the digital transformation of manufacturing, leveraging third platform technologies, such as Big Data/Analytics and innovation accelerators, such as the (Industrial) Internet of Things; and requiring the convergence of IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology), robotics, data and manufacturing processes to realize connected factories, smart decentralized manufacturing, self-optimizing systems and the digital supply chain in the information-driven cyber-physical environment of the fourth industrial revolution.

The initial goals in Industry 4.0 typically are automation, (manufacturing) process improvement and productivity/production optimization; the more mature goals are innovation and the transition to new business models and revenue sources with information and services as cornerstones. Industry 4.0 is also called ‘smart industry’ or ‘smart manufacturing’. In many senses it is related to the Industrial Internet and since 2016 the Industrial Internet Consortium and Industry 4.0 platform, “Plattform Industrie 4.0”, indeed started collaborating.

This is probably not the shortest Industry 4.0 definition ever and it does contain some terms we might need to explain further such as the third platform and innovation accelerators as they exist in the DX (digital transformation) economy, as well as the integration of IT and OT, which is key in the cyber-physical context of Industry 4.0 as we’ll see.

A shorter definition of Industry 4.0: the information-intensive transformation of manufacturing in a connected environment of data, people, processes, services, systems and production assets with the generation, leverage and utilization of actionable information as a way and means to realize the smart factory and new manufacturing ecosystems.

The original definition of Industry 4.0 (or better: Industrie 4.0)

The definition of Industrie 4.0 as proposed in 2011 was pretty lengthy too. In a paper, entitled “Industrie 4.0 – Smart Manufacturing for the Future”, GTAI (Germany Trade and Invest) looked at the questions what is smart industry (a synonym of Industry 4.0) and what Industrie 4.0 means.

An extract: Smart industry or “INDUSTRIE 4.0” refers to the technological evolution from embedded systems to cyber-physical systems…INDUSTRIE 4.0 represents the coming fourth industrial revolution on the way to an Internet of Things, Data and Services. Decentralized intelligence helps create intelligent object networking and independent process management, with the interaction of the real and virtual worlds representing a crucial new aspect of the manufacturing and production process”.

And it’s not done! More in the paper (PDF opens) and in our Industry 4.0 definitions list below.

What is Industry 4.0 (according to several sources)?

If you wonder what Industry 4.0 is in practice, you’ll find more on the various aspects and evolution further below.

However, if you need a description Industry 4.0 and seek an Industry 4.0 definition, which you can use for whatever purpose, take a look at the Industry 4.0 definitions we gathered from various other sources which, in many cases, are also excellent starting points to learn more about the pretty broad reality of Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution and all its aspects.

Obviously not all definition of Industry 4.0 are the same. It’s as Marijn ten Wolde of Bosch Siemens Home Appliances said in an interview: “Industry 4.0 has a different meaning or for each company. Even within Bosch there isn’t one definition of Industry 4.0. It’s dependent on the strategy for each factory. The most important principles for manufacturing are connectivity and operational excellence”.

Benefits, goals and excellence before definitions (but below are those definitions anyway).



 Industry 4.0 - the fourth industrial revolution - Industry 4.0 defined explained and visualized with evolutions and data

Industry 4.0 - digital transformation of manufacturing in the fourth industrial revolution

Industrie 4.0 - Smart Manufacturing for the Future by Germany Trade and Invest - an Industry 4.0 must-read - PDF opens