The shape of Industry 4.0

12 min read

Andrew Allcock spoke to Siemens’ Andy Hodgson at MACH 2016, trying to pin down details relating to Industry 4.0, which was variously highlighted at the biennial manufacturing technology event (extended version)

Contents and links:

1) Main article as published in Machinery, July 2016

2) What is a cyber-physical system?

3) Industry 4.0 on YouTube (four videos) - A German initiative explained; what was said at the World Economic Forum this year; Siemens' Industry 4.0 view; Prof Dr Boris Otto, director information management & engineering, Fraunhofer IML, spoke at MACH 2016, but here is an earlier presentation explaining his Industry 4.0 view

4) Industry 4.0 is for SME job shops, too - details of a German government-funded project

5) A German firm wins a Hanover Messe Industry 4.0 accolade for its mini-industrial computer that provides existing machinery and systems with intelligence; plus a project that is employing it

Main article

Just ahead of the MACH 2016 exhibition this April, Andy Hodgson, general manager of drives and motion control at Siemens in the UK (0161 446 5000), was appointed by MACH exhibition organiser the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA – as its board member champion for Industry 4.0.

When it was suggested to him that Industry 4.0 seems to be a flexible thing, he agreed: “It is whatever you want it to be. It is the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data; it’s scaleable. So, at the shopfloor level, you’re talking simulation on a laptop, pricing and negotiation of contracts, at an SME level. So, an operator or small company can simulate a part, quote a part, produce it virtually, working out all costings offline. Then you might have some level of condition monitoring on smaller machines; monitoring temperatures and vibrations, so you can know if there’s a problem coming, with machines sending texts or emails to notify people of problems and so support lights-out operation.

“Take a larger company, say, a supplier in the aerospace or automotive sector, and you can link machines together. The machines can schedule themselves and you can get more information from them. It’s all about data and what you do with it. You can expand that to how machines interact, how they feed each other to get rid of bottlenecks, so [the machines are] managing inter-company operations.

“After that, you have robotics. Again at an SME level, while we have had automation and handling for 20 to 30 years, you haven’t been able to machine with robots; now you can. Admittedly not as well yet as a machine tool, but there were many examples at last year’s EMO exhibition [held in Italy in October]. Robots load parts into machines, providing a zero position for both the machine and robot, with that allowing the robot to do both a first operation and a third operation. So the robot could undertake some preparatory work, the machine could undertake high tolerance work, with the robot then performing deburring, for example. So you have three, four or five operations within one cell, without actually removing or re-zeroing the part.


“Now, take the next step, say, an engine plant; link all the machines together. For example, at Jaguar Land Rover we have something called Manage MyTools (MMT – The machine tools do not have tool carousels; there’s one tool hive for the one plant and as tools near the end of their life they call for a new tool, so every tool is 100% utilised, not sitting in a tool carousel 50% used. Inefficiency and costs come right down.

“Linked machines also allow for scheduling, while you can again apply condition monitoring, allowing you to schedule service to obtain zero downtime and 100% uptime, because you can use the redundancy within the plant flexibly.

And because machines are flexible, you can have full flexibility of products coming through. So an engine plant could have V6 and four-cylinder designs, with component-located RFID technology commanding these flexible machines.” This component-as-process-driver is a key element in the Industry 4.0 concept, in fact.

Delivered at speed at the busy MACH exhibition, Hodgson’s comments demonstrate that his mind is buzzing as he scrabbles to encompass the breadth of the Industry 4.0 world.

Now, all this sounds like automation at various levels, granted, but Industry 4.0 doesn’t just take in the automation of physical processes; it also includes the accurate modelling and simulation of the real world in the cyber world.

Hodgson takes the theme up, posing this question: “How many cars does a manufacturer have to crash to gain an NCAP rating?” The answer he gives is 18 to 20, one for each time an iteration is made.

“The answer is to design a car in virtual reality. You design in every performance variable and you can crash it as many times as you like, only crashing, say, two for real. Your time to market is now not six years, it is six months, because you have a digital representation.”

This marriage of real and virtual is what is meant by the term ‘cyber-physical’ in Industry 4.0 speak; physical systems that can be modelled virtually. And this doesn’t just mean the literal modelling of something like the CNC machining process; it means the modelling of the behaviour and status of physical assets in the information world.

As it happens, it is this phrase ‘cyber-physical’ that most confuses people, says Jens Amberg, managing director of positioning technology expert Halstrup-Aalcher GmbH, who is able to eloquently explain it (see below).

The modelling of the physical world in the virtual world is a central element of Industry 4.0; not just its physical modelling but the behavioural modelling is meant by the term 'cyber-physical system'


A suggestion that confusion around the physical and virtual elements of Industry 4.0 does exist sees Hodgson offer that there is are “top-down and bottom-up” approaches to Industry 4.0, with the crash test modelling being the former and earlier examples representing the latter. “The first examples take existing plant and apply Industry 4.0 concepts to it. That is really retrofit, but what you really want to do is design the factory completely virtually and then actually have a fully operational factory, so you can simulate every scenario and have full flexibility to change, say, models in a car plant. All the digital doppelgangers are there ready; you then dig a hole in the ground and make it [build the factory]. You can simulate to get a much more efficient plant, while any product changes are made and proved digitally, with these then downloaded to the factory to make the new product or version.”

But do such factories yet exist? To a certain extent, is Hodgson’s response. He adds: “What seems to be happening is that in everyday life we accept digital technology. People buy things online, for example, with the first human that touches it being when it is handed over on the doorstep. I know people that have designed trainers online and had them delivered three days later. You’ve got 600 TV channels, can play computer games with realistic simulation. These are real examples; we have mobile phones; we get emails on our computers. We seem to accept Industry 4.0 in our personal lives, but industry is very cautious and conservative as to how it can adopt the technology. But aerospace has; aeroplanes are now fully digital – the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, [was fully digital] before it was made. Red Bull drives a Grand Prix car 300 million times around a track the day before it arrives at the track.

It is coming from the top down, so the question then becomes ‘is it affordable?’”The Boeings and large automotive companies of this world clearly have an Industry 4.0 vision and are pursuing it.

It is perhaps more difficult to see how manufacturing SMEs in such companies’ supply chains slot into the Industry 4.0 landscape. It’s all about the digital information flow, suggests Hodgson: “The large primes supply digital design data to their top tier companies. Lower tier suppliers will make components for the higher tier, but will they make a part to a tolerance or one that is perfect for the assembly it fits in to? What about the flow of parts to the customer; how many and when? This is all part of the digital highway.

So, make the right part to the right size in the right quantity and deliver it just in time. You get that flexibility throughout the supply chain, if it is digitally linked, and that is where software like SAP [0870 608 4000] comes in, for example.” (A German research project is looking at the smart job shop, as it happens – see below.)

In highlighting other elements of the digital world, he offers the example of Siemens’ growing PLM software family that provides digital solutions to an ever-expanding array of, in the main, design-side tasks right up to full simulation of mechanical and electronic assemblies. Naming leaders in this area, he cites the Formula One teams, specifically Red Bull.

Beyond this digital-design-and-simulate world there is the actual making of parts, of course. Outside of computers that can support the design-and-simulate element, manufacturing operations are a little more distributed, but the key is flow of digital information both downward to, between and upward from manufacturing technology/production stations.

But, fundamentally, Industry 4.0 is scaleable, Hodgson underlines: “It can be a simple text message in the middle of the night that says the barfeeder is empty, through to multiple machines communicating with each other. It depends on what is applicable to a company.”

This scaleability is why many companies exhibiting at MACH this year were able to claim they had an element of the Industry 4.0 solution (see online article here). If you’re wondering where you stand in all of this, Siemens is developing its ‘Digital Healthcheck’, an app-based questionnaire and underlying modelling capability that customers can use to understand where they sit within the Industry 4.0 utopia and guide them further.

So far in the UK, the company’s own Congleton-based motor and drive assembly site has come out top, Hodgson says.

A particular highlight is a digital cave that allows for the shopfloor to be modelled offline to simulate the most efficient processes for new or modified products, with this subsequently implemented. Time to market is much faster and product quality higher, he says. But on a day-to-day basis, digital information flow at Congleton supports just-in-time delivery of parts to the factory, manufacture of the right number of products at the right time within it and the timely shipping of product to customers.


Siemens has some 300 manufacturing plants worldwide, so is clearly in a position to both develop and apply Industry 4.0 technology. Its Amberg plant in Germany that produces programmable logic controls is its flagship in the latter respect. It makes 1,300 different products at a cumulative rate of 1 million/month, or one every second, at a defect rate of 11 in one million, servicing 60,000-plus customers, but with a new order lead time of just 24 hours.

New products and their production processes are modelled offline in a duplicate digital world. Within the factory, each product travels in its own ‘buggy’ and is guided through the plant by an on-board ‘bill of process’, with 50 million ‘conversations’ occurring daily between products and ‘smart’ equipment.

Extended version from here

Box item 1

Industry 4.0 and cyber-physical systems

Jens Amberg, managing director of drives and sensor maker Halstrup-Walcher GmbH, explains Industry 4.0, specifically the phrase ‘cyber-physical’.

He writes: “All non-human participants in manufacture, such as machines, exist not only in the real world of production that can be grasped with our five senses; they exist beyond that in Industry 4.0 in a ‘virtual image’ that reflects the real world and is supplemented by information. This virtual image can be found in the world of information technology and depicts all the possibilities and abilities of the production participants, as well as their current states.

“Based on the information of the virtual image, it is possible for an individual, decentralised participant in manufacture to make independent decisions and also communicate these directly to the neighbouring production participants. So an intelligent transport container makes a request to the machine in question with reference to workpieces for supplies, if it discovers that the corresponding bin is empty.

“Every participant in production that has a virtual image of this kind and can be networked for interaction with other production participants is called a ‘cyber-physical system’. ‘Cyber’ refers to the virtual image here, while ‘physical’, on the other hand, refers to the object in the manufacturing reality that can be perceived with our five senses.

“So for example, a tool itself notices the first signs of wear and tear and orders its own replacement at the external tool suppliers.

“The approach is revolutionary, because these cyber-physical systems have the required decentralised intelligence, they are themselves able to assess situations, make decisions and prompt other cyber-physical systems to perform actions when necessary. These behaviours were programmed and are ideally even able to change and adapt themselves. The hierarchical and vertical decision path, a hallmark of everyday manufacturing for decades, is thus cancelled or at least largely replaced.” See full article at

Box item 2

Industry 4.0 on YouTube

‘Industrie 4.0’ (Industry 4.0, anglicised) is, of course, a German strategic initiative, born in 2011 and aimed at protecting Germany as a manufacturing location into the future. An up-to-date explanation is the April 2016 presentation from ‘Germany Trade & Invest’ here:

But this initiative has gained global status and momentum. Indeed, this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, placed the topic on its agenda. The full presentation is here:

And there’s an up-to-date Siemens presentation of April 2016, with Alastair Orchard, vice president of the digital enterprise project, explaining the broader Siemens Industry 4.0 view:

At MACH 2016, Prof Dr Boris Otto, director information management & engineering, Fraunhofer IML, spoke during the event’s Industry 4.0 seminar session. You can see and hear him speak on the topic in this 2015 presentation:

Box item 3

Industry 4.0 is for SME job shops, too

Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (Fraunhofer IPK) is working on a German government-funded project with industry that supports the smart factory job shop environment, as opposed to a production line one as is the case for larger OEMs. The project is called iWePro - ‘Intelligent Self-Organizing Job Shop Production’.

Project partners from science and industry are designing innovative production concepts to enable smart job shop manufacturing with decentralised production control.

The project takes the example of gear manufacturing. Undertaken in lines where milling and turning machines are rigidly interlinked, the entire line will come to a standstill, should a single machine fail. In such lines it is complicated, if not impossible, to tackle small orders having special requirements or product features. In job shop production, production permits orders to be guided flexibly through the manufacturing process. So, for instance, an order can be produced on any of the turning machines available in a company. But such production structures also require methods to ensure that the orders make their way through production reliably, on time and at optimised costs.

So, while a production approach requires a process route to be planned and followed, iWePro aims for smart job shop production using decentralised structures with small control loops and efficient communications between all employees and resources involved in the process. While still employing a process plan, shopfloor workers are able to intervene in the planned sequences to ensure that deadlines are met.

The project is reviewing how a central scheduling software, in this case Job Shop Scheduler from Flexis AG (0191 313 0100), can be combined with feedback to allow dynamic adaptation during production of a previously prepared plan.

The software generates detailed production plans for pending production jobs and presents them in Gantt charts. These charts illustrate what machining step of an order needs to be carried out on which machine and when. The system additionally allows for different scenarios to be planned by, for example, dividing production into a fast lane for parts that are in high demand and a flexible section for more exotic components. The system then produces actions for shopfloor staff from the detailed plan, with production plans shared more directly with staff than was previously the case. Parts of the plan that are relevant to specific employees are made available to them directly at their workplace, so that time spent on briefings may be significantly reduced. At the same time, the system supports adjustments to the planned production sequence, reflecting feedback on reality.

So, each production job and every resource – machines, employees, tools, etc – is represented by an agent. These agents communicate and negotiate with each other. If, for instance, a phase of work is almost complete, the agent representing the workpieces will ask the agent representing the machines at the next processing station who is available to perform the corresponding tasks. The machine agents will reply with, among other things, dates and costs.

On this basis, the employee in charge of processing will be offered a range of possibilities for the next stage of processing, indicating which machine will be available when and under what conditions.

This information will make it easier to make quick and efficient decisions, deliver better results than production line systems, which are technically highly sophisticated. To this end, a complex simulation is being created in iWePro using the Demo3D software by SimPlan AG ( It will make it possible to analyse what combination of central planning and decentralised replanning is suitable for an application case. A demonstrator is being developed in parallel to allow evaluation of what information should be indicated to shopfloor staff and how, for example via smart devices.

Partners in the project are:

• Adam Opel AG, Rüsselsheim, Germany

• DMG Electronics GmbH, Pfronten, Germany

• Flexis AG, Stuttgart, Germany

• Safelog GmbH, Kirchheim, Germany

• SimPlan AG, Maintal, Germany

• Sociological Research Institute (SOFI) at University of Goettingen, Germany

• TAGnology RFID GmbH, Voitsberg, Styria, Austria

In another Germany-based project, called Jump 4.0, Fraunhofer IPK is working with Pickering & Partner GmbH, plus other partners, in the development of an ‘Industry Cockpit’. The project is developing a simple, interactive process management system for the shopfloor in order to transfer Industry 4.0 skills to medium-sized German companies.

The system will relocate feasibility assessment and planning of customer inquiries from the top floor to the shopfloor. The resulting shortened response times and improved delivery reliability will support more competitive capability.

Furthermore, a system is being developed that will evaluate technical capabilities of medium-sized companies, allowing them to understand Industry 4.0 investment needs.

Project partners are:

•Budatec GmbH

•Cirp GmbH

•Fraunhofer IPK


•Maier Werkzeugmaschinen

•PI Informatik

•Dresden University of Technology

•University of Stuttgart

All are located in Germany.

Box item 4

German firm wins Hanover Messe Industry 4.0 accolade

The Harting Technology Group ( picked up the Hermes Award at April’s Hanover Messe for its MICA (Modular Industry Computing Architecture), a mini-industrial computer. MICA provides existing machinery and systems with intelligence, making it possible to transform factories into smart factories.

The award presentation took place as part of the opening ceremony of the exhibition on Sunday, 24 April, in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama. The prize was presented by Prof Dr Johanna Wanka, Germany’s Minister of Education and Research.

In a separate move, the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence is using MICA in a demonstrator to illustrate decentralised control of component separation, based on distributed cyber-physical systems (CPSs). The application is for the bottling of unsorted coloured balls into containers, followed by optical quality inspection. All components - the filling unit, the conveyor belt and quality inspection - are effected via separate CPSs that communicate with each other.

The core of every CPS is a MICA micro-computer that directly accesses the respective component’s sensors and actuators, and executes the corresponding control software. An app-based approach to flexible function enhancement in the field is part of this, aided by mobile systems such as a tablet, new functionalities can be downloaded from an app store, on demand, and can be loaded into the demonstrator during normal operation.

First published in Machinery, July 2016