The current understanding of Industry 4.0 encompasses more than the vision of a fully automated and technology-oriented development of German industry. The so-called fourth industrial revolution is characterized by increasing networking of people, materials and machines.

This guiding vision undoubtedly creates complexity, because Industry 4.0 is more than working with An Internet connection. It is intended to change the world of work at a rapid and unstoppable pace. Digitisation within the framework of Industry 4.0 shows that organizations are changing and work is becoming faster and more virtual.

But what does this mean in concrete terms? What is Industry 4.0? This article is intended to collect definitions and, at the end, give an overview of what Industry 4.0 could mean and any concrete examples of what is and is not Industry 4.0.

What is Industry 4.0

There are many definitions of Industry 4.0 and I also wonder: What is Industry 4.0? For example, the BDIsays: Industry 4.0 stands for the fourth industrial revolution. After mechanization (Industry 1.0), mass production (Industry 2.0) and automation (Industry 3.0), the Internet of Things and Services is now entering production. Industry 4.0 technologies enable outstanding growth opportunities and competitive advantages for Germany as a business location. Forecasts assume that companies can increase their productivity by about 30 percent through Industry 4.0.

The Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon sees it more as a marketing term: “Industry 4.0” is a marketing term that is also used in science communication and stands for a “future project” of the German Federal Government. The so-called fourth industrial revolution is characterized by the individualization or hybridization of the products and the integration of customers and business partners into the business processes.

The magazine viernull also describes the development of Industry 4.0 with a historical development: “Industry 4.0” stands for the “fourth Industrial Revolution”. Before that, there must have been three other revolutions – this is at least suggested by the creators of the term: “Industry 1.0” means the era of mechanics beginning in the 18th century, “Industry 2.0” refers to the era of electronics (20th century) and “Industry 3.0” stands for the increasing automation of industry through the use of office IT since the 1970s.

So it seems that this is the fourth industrial revolution and there have been three more. In the following illustration, I summarized examples and metaphors for it.

what is industry4.0
Phases, metaphors and examples for industry (own presentation based on the knowledge of

Components of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is also a kind of collective term for many services and products. On the page of the BDI I have summarized them in the following figure. Sure, these are not 100% complete but probably mainly the core aspects. Since it is primarily also a term from the government, I have mainly taken the government pages as well as the BDI as sources.

Industry 4.0
Components of Industry 4.0 (Own presentation based on the BDI)

With social machines, the BDI means: Similar to social networks on the Internet, intelligent machines exchange information with each other. You can organize yourself and coordinate processes and appointments together.

According to the BDI, Global Facilities says: Machines do not only exchange data within a production facility. A company’s machines are also networked with systems from suppliers and customers. If a supplier fails, alternative suppliers are analyzed in real time in terms of their capacity utilization or costs and are automatically commissioned.

The augmented operator refers to humans as “watchers”. Here’s what the BDI says: In the Smart Factory, people remain a central part of production. As an “augmented operator”, it controls and monitors the production processes of the production network.

Smart Products means that each part produced carries a chip that contains or sends information about it. Virtual Production thinks that there will be abstract and virtual images of factories. Unfortunately, there is hardly any illustrative example of the subject and I am not currently in a position to describe it better. If you have anything to do with it, please write it in the comments.

Smart Services says that in the future billions of smart products will be connected to the Internet during their useful life and will store huge amounts of data(big data)in a data cloud via their own operational and product state.

Industry 4.0 therefore largely stands for networking and the intelligence of machines. It is hardly an argument that this circumstance leads to a lot of data and therefore the term big data is closely linked to Industry 4.0 as well as topics related to data protection. Read more on the bdi’s page and definitely take a look at my book suggestions on digitization in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Examples of Industry 4.0

But what exactly is Industry 4.0 and what is not? I searched for examples in the following and show not only some fictitious examples but also real scenarios from Bremen.

This is what the industrysays: An example of Industry 4.0 is when “The parts know who they are”. This “smart factory” is called the “Open Integrated Factory Showcase”. It shows the networking of production and IT. The special thing about the factory is that the workpieces inform the machine about how to process them.

You also specify, as an example of this scenario, that machine can produce 16 different variants of the product. The workpieces carry information about the course of production. The parts know who they are and can talk to the plant. The parts always go to the right station and tell her: “I am this part, in this version and now please edit me correctly”. In this way, Industry 4.0 can produce a wide variety of product variants on one production line.

Now I have found eight concrete examples on the information page on digitization in Bremen, some of which I would like to present in order to illustrate Industry 4.0. All examples are copied from the same page and partially.

Example 1: Ancillary cost statements are expensive for Bremen Airport – for the more than 100 individual transactions, meter readings for water and gas must be read and billed. With digital meter reading and intelligent document management, the airport was able to save an enormous amount of time.

Example 2: Robots become more complex and powerful. A Bremen logistics company took advantage of technical progress to transport returns of online orders fully automatically through a warehouse. This saves time, money and relieves employees.

Example 3: A Bremen-based industrial service provider uses the cloud specifically to make distributed teams work with workflows. All work processes around HR and personnel are completely published online. The employees of the Personal Office are located all over Germany and there is little need for coordination.

Example 4: Monitoring heavy transports from several thousand kilometres away for progress, transport damage or improper treatment – this was what a Bremen logistics service agency dreamed of for a long time. With an Industry 4.0 project, a logistics monitoring was introduced, which made it possible to monitor the load.

All examples are listed in more detail on the page The Digitization of Bremen. In conclusion, I will go into the examples in more detail.


The article deals with the question: What is Industry 4.0? Industry 4.0 is a term that is primarily a project of the Federal Government and is not actually used abroad. This is the fourth industrial revolution to deal with the networking and intelligence of machines. There are also numerous examples such as chips and monitoring systems for freight as well as machines that can automatically wait. Human beings should increasingly take on the role of watchdog. With Industry 4.0, problems such as big data and data protection become more relevant than before for German companies.

Reading tip: Articles on agile production

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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