Industry 4.0: A new industrial frontier


Industry 4.0 and the Digital Factory

The 4th industrial revolution, commonly known as "Industry 4.0" is being fuelled by the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing and the establishment of smart factories. 

Historically, economies of scale have been associated with high-volume, low-variety products. With the digitalisation of the factory and mass customisation, unique products can now be manufactured at a fraction of the cost than previously possible. This personalised, mass production will be achievable because every component in the production system will be connected, intelligent and autonomous. It will form, along with the other components, a network with a capacity of optimisation. Hyper-connectivity in the value chain will enable customers to configure products according to their own specific preferences and user behaviour. With customer usage history being constantly saved and updated in the cloud, IT systems can communicate and inform the supply chain in real-time to produce and deliver individual products at the click of a button.

Ultimately, these digital technologies will foster a more efficient manufacturing system, resulting in consumption of fewer resources and even less energy. Some pivotal industry examples include:

Eyecode technology at Essilor

An optician can take into account the exact anatomy of the eyes of a patient. This Eyecode technology uses 3D measurements to calculate a unique lens design for every patient.

Image Credit: Essilor International S.A

Image Credit: Essilor International S.A


The Adidas speed factory

Incorporated in Ansbach, Germany 2017. The Speed Factory uses state of the art robotics and manufacturing technology to create "athlete data-driven designs, radical accelerated footwear production, open-source co-creation, and hyperflexible localised manufacturing". In 2018, the company also plans to expand this concept to New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Tokyo.


Image Credit: Adidas AG

Image Credit: Adidas AG



In Germany, the website proposes a staggering 566 billion types of muesli to its customers!


Image Credit:

Image Credit:


One could be tempted to believe that Industry 4.0 is already a well-defined concept. However, at this stage, it is only a vision. Industry 4.0 encapsulates a wide spectrum of technological enablers, services and organisational models. Wolfgang Wahlster, Managing director of the German Centre for research in artificial intelligence, indicates that "Industry 4.0 is a conceptual revolution through which implementation will be made by incremental evolutions". We are at the beginning of Industry 4.0 and according to experts, it will only reach its full reality in approximately twenty years from now!

The concept "Industry 4.0": a global initiative

Industrial production is the base of German prosperity, it represents hundreds of billions of euros in positive trade balance and one in every two German jobs. An industrialist, Henning Kagermann the former CEO of SAP and President of Acatech (German Academy of the technologies), stated: "we are the first country to have developed a coherent and exhaustive vision on the future of Germany as a production site, a vision carried by all, whether it is the industry, the political world, the labor unions or the scientific community."

Germany has been followed by all the major industrial powers. Around the world, the economic, political and technological drivers for Industry 4.0 adoption vary considerably. In France, the New Industrial France initiative aims at leveraging the digital revolution and new manufacturing technologies to improve the competitiveness of companies and create industrial jobs.

In the UK, Industry 4.0 is viewed as the route that will lead to the emergence of the smart industry: self-organising networks of production will reverse conventional production processes. In the US, the government sees Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as a means to increase innovation, protect jobs and decrease the international deficit. Over the next five years, the US is expected to invest more capital into the digitalisation of manufacturing than any other nation.

In China, many manufacturers are still operating in the age of Industry 2.0. Labour and materials costs are rapidly increasing. China Manufacturing 2025 is a government plan to transform the country into an advanced production nation by the middle of the century.

Fundamentally, Industry 4.0 is a shift from a product oriented industry to a digital services oriented industry. The result will be the emergence of new players, business models and opportunities. The combination of digital technologies, services and organisational models will only be as effective as the people driving it. This must be achieved by putting people at the very centre of this revolution, as operators, within ergonomic factories and equipped with the relevant training. Let us shape this new industrial frontier in a human and sustainable way!


Pierre Charpentier

Daniel Camara