The hype aspect of Industry 4.0: avoid the traps of a too narrow vision

Is Industry 4.0 a hype? What’s for sure is that it’s a vision that requires a strategic and staged approach instead of only some ad hoc projects with the sole purpose of optimizing, automating and saving costs, to name a few.

That broader aspect is the very reason why we compared Industry 4.0 with digital transformation: Industry 4.0 as the digital transformation of manufacturing, logistics and so forth with an obvious role for the integration of IT and OT which is often a challenge as such.

Digital transformation is a strategic journey as well and it should go beyond ad hoc projects too. Yet, there is more, also on a technology level.

Avoiding Industry 4.0 hype

Industry 4.0 is not just about IT and digital transformation

Still, there are differences between digital transformation and Industry 4.0. The typical technology stack of digital transformation (remember that digital transformation is not just about technology though) has clear IT roots.

The SMAC stack (social, mobile, big data analytics and cloud) or, if you prefer, the third platform: these technologies are key in Industry 4.0 as well.

Yet, although in the so-called innovation accelerators of the third platform we find quite some crucial technologies for Industry 4.0 such as AI/cognitive, virtual and augmented reality, robotics, 3D printing and of course the Internet of Things, they don’t cover all Industry 4.0 technologies and evolutions, especially the operational technologies which are and remain key. Electricity, mechanics, water, cooling, industrial standards, new manufacturing materials and game-changing manufacturing techniques are important too – and for us they are too often overlooked in the IT narrative.

Protocols and standards beyond IT

Some industrial protocols and standards are poised to be replaced in specific circumstances.

Industry 4.0 is increasingly hyped – be strategic in order to avoid the mistakes of failed digital transformation projects

As an example: in building management systems, IoT will replace traditional building automation and control communications protocols such as BACnet as Jean Commeignes said in our interview on lighting and room control. Expect similar changes with several other industrial protocols; yet expect some to certainly remain as well.

That’s part of the IT and OT integration as well: the best – evolving – protocols and standards for the individual context.

Make sure you particularly take a look at what happens with industrial protocols to connect IoT with industry at the edge for the more cyber-physical and IoT-related aspects. Yet, don’t forget other existing manufacturing standards and protocols, also beyond data communications, if you want to understand Industry 4.0 evolutions.

Additive manufacturing is about more than IT

Another example concerns the new manufacturing techniques and the role of new materials we mentioned.

Take additive manufacturing, that revolutionary way to utterly change the ways we can manufacture goods or parts with difficult, traditionally time-consuming and/or a-typical designs, enabling a high degree of customization.

Additive manufacturing is not the same as 3D printing (a common myth) and the evolutions with regards to the layering materials are at least as exciting and amazing as the IT aspects.

Or what about nanomaterials which are developed right here right now to capture carbon dioxide and might change how pollution is reduced in manufacturing? You won’t find these evolutions in an IT view on manufacturing, yet many are at least as game-changing in manufacturing and Industry 4.0 as all the IT stuff, from cloud computing to AI and VR/AR. Are all these innovations Industry 4.0? Strictly speaking maybe not but they sure are technological innovations.

Industry 4.0 and digital transformation

Soon the autonomy of manufacturing will also be in areas that are overlooked today: game-changing emerging and future materials and nanomaterials

Industry 4.0 in many regards indeed is like the digital transformation of manufacturing as we wrote (and of an increasing number of other industries), on the way to a more autonomous manufacturing whereby integrated supply chains, ERP, production, field services, maintenance, obviously people, robotics, warehouse operations, cyber-physical systems and so forth lead to this “smarter” and more autonomous reality.

Yet, pretty soon the smartness and autonomy will also be in the very materials which are developed in industrial environments too. It’s clear that a lot of elements in the worlds of critical power and electricity, mechanics and OT will be connected with or integrated in IT networks. Yet, it’s more than that and we shouldn’t overlook the operational technology, materials and other parts.

Industry 4.0 hype: what matters

Although the Industry 4.0 vision comes from an industrial environment, the vision increasingly takes center stage in the narrative of large IT companies for all the obvious reasons.

It also gets increasingly embraced by all sorts of manufacturers of manufacturing systems, components and solutions; from energy management to industrial robotics, logistics IoT solutions and so forth. To understand Industry 4.0 you need to understand that OT side and the evolutions with regards to new materials and evolving industrial standards as well. We need to do so too with our IT background.

From a German and later European concept, the Industry 4.0 vision has gone global – adding to the increasing attention and hype

Industry 4.0 is a hot topic and there certainly is a hype dimension. If you recently went to an industrial event you certainly noticed that all is becoming sold under the Industry 4.0 label. It’s exactly the same with concepts such as smart home and home automation. Every IoT device that ‘does something in the home’ nowadays gets labelled as a smart home device.

Adding to the Industry 4.0 hype is certainly the fact that since give or take May/June 2017 the number of articles, blogs and papers by leading IT magazines, IT vendors and IT analysts is literally exploding. Last, but not least, we look at our site statistics. Although for one or the other reason we rank on Google’s first spot for digital transformation at the time of writing this, since June 2017 we get as much traffic on our Industry 4.0 page, which is ranked lower. It’s something we didn’t see coming, knowing that Industry 4.0 was only known as a vision and roadmap towards the next stage of manufacturing in Europe give and take two years ago.

So, yes Industry 4.0 is increasingly hyped. The important thing is now to understand what it is and, most of all, to be strategic about it in order to avoid the same mistakes that have been made in many digital transformation projects.

And at least as important: to find the value in Industry 4.0 – in a staged way – for your particular industry, optimization and automation opportunities and, ultimately your innovation and revenue differentiation potential.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Neo Fenghuang – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.