The term Industrie 4.0 was first publicly mentioned in 2011, and it has shaped discussions about modern production around the world ever since. Seven years on, we take stock of the achievements and challenges of the fourth industrial revolution together with one of the initiators of Industrie 4.0, Prof. Henning Kagermann.
According to the Industrie 4.0 Platform, about 15 million jobs depend directly or indirectly on the manufacturing industry; it is Germany’s main job engine. But the requirements in production are changing. Versatile factories, intelligent robots and networked machinery are helping to meet this challenge. “In Industrie 4.0, production dovetails with state-of-the-art information and communication technology. The driving force behind this development is the rapid pace of digitization in business and society. It is transforming the methods of producing and working in Germany. After mechanization, electrification and automation, the second wave of digitization is now heralding the fourth industrial revolution,” says Henning Kagermann.
Industrie 4.0 represents individualization and autonomy instead of standardization and automation.
But readying industry and production for the future is also a monumental social and societal task. Digitization is penetrating all areas of life and changing the way we learn and work. Many people are concerned that their jobs will be lost, or they have general trepidations about new technologies.
Acceptance is the key
“New technologies become accepted when individuals benefit from technology while being able to remain independent in interaction with it,” says Kagermann. “The same is true for the digitization process.” An example of this is e-government, where citizens benefit from online services and digital mail being offered by public authorities, replacing paperwork and long waiting times. E-government and the resulting personal gains can contribute to breaking down people’s reservations about the digital world. Acceptance is the key to success for quick implementation of Industrie 4.0. And speed is more important than ever in the competitive global market, because this German initiative is attracting a lot of attention abroad.
The competition never rests
“We have a diverse economy in Germany, with strengths in many segments of industry and a reputation of excelling in building and mastering complex systems. Of course, we cannot afford to relax. There are many countries with visions and goals similar to ours,” Kagermann explains. “Large-scale initiatives are evident throughout Asia, in particular. China, for example, has introduced its ‘China 2025’ program, modeled after Industrie 4.0. The Japanese government has launched its ‘Society 5.0’ initiative and an ‘Industrial Value Chain Initiative’ with a focus on robotics. And in South Korea there is the ‘Smart Factory Initiative’ along with the more extensive ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ program: a combination of Industrie 4.0 and Smart Service World.” An important factor for the success of future-oriented initiatives is a strong, homogeneous market, such as in China or the US. “If you have a homogeneous domestic market where you can become established, it’s much easier to scale up further growth and set standards. Europe therefore needs a digital European single market in order to play a stronger role in the competitive global environment.”
Germany still has a slight edge. Since 2011, a great deal has happened to spur innovation. This includes technology programs, model factories and initiatives such as the Industrie 4.0 Platform, which brings together politics, business and science. But other countries might soon surpass Germany, because we are lagging in two particular areas.
Digital infrastructure and digital education
“The expansion of broadband infrastructure is an area in which Germany has to catch up,” criticizes Kagermann. According to the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, 38 percent of all companies in Germany with ten or more employees had an Internet connection with a data transfer rate of at least 30 Mbit/s in mid-2016. This puts Germany in the middle of the pack in Europe. Denmark is the frontrunner with 65 percent. If the digital infrastructure is not soon adapted to the requirements, Germany may miss the boat.
The success of Industrie 4.0 will also be decided in the field of education. “We have to prepare young people for a working world that is different from the environment we know today,” says Kagermann. “According to a survey of the popularity of STEM subjects among young people, conducted by acatech in 2017 (MINT Nachwuchsbarometer), a lack of state-of-the-art IT equipment in schools and insufficient training and professional development opportunities for teachers contribute to the fact that the development of education is lagging behind.”
Experts call for students to learn on a more individual basis with multimedia material. Online feedback can make it easier to update teaching aids quickly. This would allow students to work with multimedia material instead of decades-old books, and the imparted material could be tailored to each individual.
Lifelong learning – and a personal formula for success
A broad education over the course of their entire professional life allows employees to keep pace with technological developments and to find their place in tomorrow’s economy.
The jobs of the future will touch on many different facets, and interdisciplinary work will become increasingly important. What will be the key competencies of Jobs 4.0? “Self-management, a good portion of flexibility and the ability to work in heterogeneous teams,” Henning Kagermann states confidently.
Critics say that industrial revolutions have been identified as such only in hindsight. But Industrie 4.0 is still in its infancy, and the course still has to be set in many respects. For this reason, some prefer the term ‘evolution’ over ‘revolution’. One thing is for sure: a gargantuan change is underway, and we have an opportunity to play an active role in shaping it.
Henning Kagermann is professor of physics, former CEO of SAP AG and former President of acatech (National Academy of Science and Engineering). He is one of the most influential architects of Industrie 4.0 and was instrumental in coining the term. Henning Kagermann is a member of several committees and initiatives. He has been on the Supervisory Board of KUKA AG since 2017.