July 19, 2012 // By: Claudia Linke
A new type of production is about to turn the industrial world on its head. In fact, such is its potential impact that industry experts are already talking about the next industrial revolution, calling it Industry 4.0. Central to this revolution are cyber-physical production systems that synergize conventional production technology and IT, allowing machines and products to communicate with each other in the Internet of Things.
Through “embedded systems”, products in the production process will one day be able to actively tell machines what processing steps to perform next. Sensors will report where these so-called “smart products” are currently located in the production process and relay notifications of where improvements are needed. In this way, processes will control themselves decentrally. The scale of networking that we are already familiar with in the consumer sphere is therefore set to become reality in the world of production, too.
The aim of Industry 4.0 is to increase flexibility and productivity. As such, manufacturers will be able to produce customer-specific components fast, cost-effectively, and in small quantities – while automated processes will simultaneously ensure that individual component parts are re-ordered and that the order remains fully transparent within the company. And one thing is clear: IT will play an even greater role in the production process than it has in the past.
As a key trend, Industry 4.0 is drawing a great deal of attention in Germany, and the German government is making major efforts to support the intensive research that is currently taking place in this area. Not surprisingly, Industry 4.0 is one of ten forward-looking projects that feature in the government’s High-Tech Strategy.
Together with its industrial and research partners, SAP’s global research organization, SAP Research, is conducting intensive investigations into this new type of production. For example, it is taking part in the RES-COM project, which is co-sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is chiefly concerned with deploying machine-to-machine communication to promote the efficient use of resources. SAP Research’s core partners in this project include Siemens and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). The researchers are also looking at how the IT platforms of the future will enable machines, systems, and people to interact across enterprise boundaries in what is referred to the Business Web.