From the editor: Why Industry 4.0 should really matter to everyone

DLR Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e. V. Institut für Robotik und Mechatronik

This year’s global economic summit in Davos in Switzerland raised awareness of the opportunities of Industry 4.0 for everyone and not just for manufacturers or those with engineering degrees. Many industry, social and economic observers, including Thilo Brodtmann, Executive Director of the German Engineering Association (VDMA) have stated that in the not-too-distant future, digitisation will change the way our society works, produces and consumes.

However, the story of Industry 4.0 is not only about connecting masses of machines with sensors to the Internet. Sure, digitised production processes will fundamentally change many if not most existing business models, but Industry 4.0 is also about opportunities for the whole of society. Let’s take a look at sustainability as just one baseline in this argument.

There is general consensus across the world that the digitisation of industry and industrial processes will also be good for the environment.

This is because companies will then be able to optimise their production processes in regards to their energy and resource consumption. In terms of scheduling, thanks to Industry 4.0, companies will also be able to produce products right where their clients need them, without the cost and effort of shipping.

As Thilo Brodtmann has noted on numerous occasions, Industry 4.0 holds the promise of a clean and sustainable industry. “Finally, Industry 4.0 is an opportunity to adapt the economy to a growing world population because of its flexibility and efficiency.

In Europe, where just like here, society is aging, digitisation can create jobs that are not physically demanding. In this way, Industry 4.0 improves the working environment in companies and offers opportunities for older employees to contribute to the work process.

The precondition is that we begin to prepare the workforce in time for their new challenges, and teach workers IT and engineering skills,” he said. “It is equally important for the broad success of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that people are not afraid of new technologies, but see the possibilities and think about how to make the most of them.

If we do Industry 4.0 right, not just industry will benefit, but society as a whole,” added Brodtmann. So unlike much of our current political discourse, Industry 4.0 is not just a two or three-word throwaway slogan but a solid and concrete path for much of modern society to embrace and follow.

The ultimate effect of Industry 4.0 will be one of allowing all those involved to optimise their processes and in turn not just streamline their profitability, but also ensure that the resources all of society relies upon are properly used and not over-abused.