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The term "Industry 4.0" is double sided: political and technological.
The political nature of "Industry 4.0" is easy to grasp: the term was introduced in 2011 at a Hannover Fair in the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel . As a world super power in industry, Germany must embrace digital innovations to maintain its leadership compared to fast growing and massively subsidised industries in countries such as China. Many industry leaders in Germany now privately acknowledge that Chinese industry has become very innovative and is able to produce high quality products. Chinese industry improved tremendously over the last decades thanks to modern machinery that was actually paid by the government through "free loans" that do not need to be reimbursed. China industry's competitiveness is no longer related to labour costs or taxes (both are high) but rather to ability of Chinese entrepreneurs to benefit from such "free loans" (billions of Euros) through good social relations with the communist party. With Industry 4.0, Germany can now compete against subsidies in China and at the same time respect WTO agreements that ban subsidies except for R&D.
The German government invested 200 million dollars for Industry 4.0 research across government, academia, businesses. This new industry is an integral part of the 2020 High Technology Strategy for Germany, which wants to maintain its leadership in technological innovation.
The technological nature of "Industry 4.0" can be harder to grasp: it implies a slight change in the organisation of production. If we had to summarise it, we would say that Industry 4.0 is about "autonomous smart tooling for the self-organised and decentralised production of personalised smart products with real-time feedback loop so that quality is continually improved". We can imagine Industry 4.0 as a combination of mobile robots, 3D printers, CNC, 5G networks, workshops and web sites which autonomously organise the complete life cycle of a product (design, sales, production, after-sales, customer retention). We can also view Industry 4.0 as a way to bring back production closer to the consumer, through a very efficient network of inter-connected workshops that are able to deliver highly customised products one by one, just like in Luxury industry but with prices closer to those of mass production in China.
Some industrial technologies are key enablers to this change of the production process. 3D printing is a good example: it is now possible to produce complex shapes using all sorts of high end materials and in very short time without having to invest in a mold. 3D printing of PCB is also now possible and provided by Phytec in Germany. Making sophisticated products autonomously has become easier than even thanks to the Fab Lab movement which shares certain aspects with Industry 4.0. One could say that Industry 4.0 is a way to turn some ideas behind Fab Labs into a high end mainstream industry with a market.
Industry 4.0 translates into multiple computer science and digital technologies. Some are quite general:
Some can be categorised using four groups with specific goals.
Equivalence between Industry 4.0 and computer science is illustrated in the table bellow.