Industry 4.0… well let’s talk about 3.X!

Industry 4.0 has become obvious for everyone... but we must keep a sense of proportion!

The term Industry 4.0 was introduced for the first time during the 2011 Hanover Fair (Wahlster, 2012). It comes from an initiative launched by the German Federal Government as part of its overall High-Tech strategy. An introduction to the Industry 4.0 concepts can be found in Lasi et al. (2014).

For the record, the first industrial revolution reflects the automation of production through steam and water (Industry 1.0); for the second one, the electrification (2.0) has arrived, and finally, more recently, the third one saw the digital computer advent (3.0). All these revolutions were related to inventions based on breakthrough scientific discoveries (Watt, Tesla, von Neuman) opening up new industries.

Bear in mind that even other revolutionary inventions, such as Marconi's (1909 Nobel Prize) wireless telecommunication, which is the basis of today's global communication, as well as varied possibilities for supply chain control in the modern production are not considered "revolutions" for the industry.

Thus, the Industry 4.0 concept is not linked to a technical revolution following a breakthrough scientific discovery!

Indeed, main tools required for the Industry 4.0 implementation have already existed for a long time: sensors, robots, big data, Internet of Things, cloud computing, 3D printer. More than a technological revolution, Industry 4.0 represents rather a complete reorganization of the mode of production with the modern tools, giving a bigger weight to the network. 

This new generation of factories aims to boost the dynamism of European industry through several actions: modernization of production, increase of competitiveness, flexibility in demand, positioning in front of the challenges of globalization...

If it's not a revolution, then why is it THE subject today? 

Every company today has to communicate on digital. According to recent studies, several hundreds of billions of 4.0 investments are launched each year in the world. Companies expect returns on investment in less than two years by generating several additional revenue points while reducing costs - 2 to 4% according studies. In this context, the main players are banking on this high-potential market and are making war on platforms for the factory of the future: Siemens with MindSphere, GE with Predix, Bosch with IoT Bosch Suite, ABB with ABB Ability, etc.

Today, global players such as Siemens, Bosch, SAP and Deutsche Telekom have positioned themselves, have entered into alliances and are offering Industry 4.0 offerings while developing demonstrators (Kohler C & C, 2015).

Countries do not hesitate to follow this movement because they see it as an opportunity to inspire new life into their countries, their regions, their cities. In addition, technological fertility with a large computational capacity and new generations increasingly "trendy", are the key ingredients to promote this digital transition since the Internet bubble.

From our point of view, Industry 4.0 will initially be a catch-up factory: the "pick and place" allows Japanese machines for several decades to load and unload cycle machines automatically. The same goes for robotic handling trucks transporting semi-products, from station to station, on less and less predefined routes. Until now, they had never convinced the French manufacturers while they have been working to the satisfaction of everyone in Japan for more than 20 years. This catch-up achieved, the factory will already have a more current "look" As for what will be in the future, probably an extension of the current breakthroughs in more industrial fields and more opportunities.

Therefore, calling Industry 4.0 a "revolution" represents an inconsistency with the first three revolutions, as it is simply a natural evolution of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM). rather it is materialized by small steps that one could possibly call V.3.1, V.3.2, etc.

The industry evolution (adapted from Schrauf and Berttram, 2016)

Industry V.3.x or "Advanced Digitization", will target businesses moving towards the customer through e-commerce, digital marketing, social media and the customer experience. Ultimately, virtually every aspect of the business will be transformed by the vertical integration of R & D, production, marketing and sales and other internal operations, as well as new business models based on these advances. Indeed, we are moving towards the complete digital ecosystem.

But the reality is a bit more complicated

A study of the DZ Bank (sample of 1000 companies with a turnover between € 0.5 M and € 125 M) published in 2014, showed that 35% of Mittelstand companies thought that digitization was not very relevant compared to their value chain and another 14%, that it played a weak role.

How is this situation explained?

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    Cultural and Psychological Barriers: below, the many sources of uncertainty for business leaders that are hindering the introduction of Industry 4.0:

Obstacles perceived by business leaders in the deployment of Industry 4.0 (Kagermann et al., 2013)

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    Financial resources may be lacking for businesses to implement the digitized industry;
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    From a management stand point, there is a lack of global digital vision. Leaders struggle to perceive the potential of digitized industry and the associated ROI;
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    Today, the majority of companies are overwhelmed by the complexity of the "digital" theme and all the implications in the business;
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    Cybersecurity: for the German Academy of Technology (Acatech), there is no security solution efficiency, only those that exist are not used systematically. Although the threats are real in the application: infection of equipment with malware via office networks, insertion of malware by USB key or external hardware, illegal access by a remote maintenance network, deliberate sabotage or misbehavior , incitement to reveal personal data including passwords by phishing (fraudulent emails, phishing) and by "social engineering" (criminals take a false identity, for example in an email where they can present themselves as tax authorities or a human resources interlocutor).

Although clean techniques of Lean production systems are not yet in place in all the workshops of production sites, the "Smart Factory" with the very promising German label "Industry 4.0" is already making the show.


While the Toyota Production System (TPS) has been shown to be the most efficient production system, Industry 4.0 is still in a framing phase with the ambitious goal of becoming a cyber-production system. Partial and sometimes limited knowledge about Lean production systems leads to distorted ideas that both approaches are incompatible.

The implementation of a ferocious digitization without a management of the "just necessary" in a logic of change management would lead to waste in today's industry, where the machine-man continues to cohabit and will in the next decade. Certainly, the digitized industry will make the production system more flexible, but it is not certain that it will be faster, smoother, more stable and more accurate. Industry 3.X itself will materialize anyway, with or without this politico-economic initiative. In fact, digitization in the industry has been going on for a long time and is still going on.

Of course, it is the connection, the availability and the processing of the data that will make the difference in the future. Critical minds might even say that the 3.X industry is a self-fulfilling prophecy to a certain extent and will not meet the high expectations it raises.

We will see in a future publication the different types of technologies proposed by, let us be indulgent, the "4.0" and a brief definition of the TPM.

Sources :

Kagermann, H., Wahlster, W., & Helbig, J. (2013) Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative Industrie 4.0 – Final report of the Industrie 4.0 Working Group. Frankfurt am Main: Communication Promoters Group of the Industry-Science Research Alliance, acatech.

Kohler C&C (2015). Industrie 4.0 : quelles stratégies numériques ? 1–67.

Lasi, H., Fettke, P., Kemper, H.-G., Feld, T., and Hoffman, M. n, “Industry 4.0,” Business & Information Systems Engineering, vol. 6, no. 4, p.239, 2014.

Nelles, J., Kuz, S., Mertens, A., and Schlick, C. M., “Human-centered design of assistance systems for production planning and control: The role of the human in industry 4.0,” in Industrial Technology (ICIT), 2016 IEEE International Conference on, pp. 2099–2104, IEEE, 2016.

Schrauf, S., Berttram, P. (2016). How digitization makes the supply chain more efficient, agile, and customer-focused.

Wahlster, W., “From industry 1.0 to industry 4.0: Towards the 4th industrial revolution,” in Forum Business meets Research, 2012.