The industrial landscape has had three major shifts over its history, each with a fundamental change in how work got done. Conversations taking place in manufacturing in Germany are currently talking about a fourth fundamental change in manufacturing labelled “Industry 4.0.”

Industry 1.0 was based on the introduction of mechanical production equipment driven by water and steam power, he said. Industry 2.0 was based on mass production achieved by division of labor and the use of electrical energy. Industry 3.0 was based on the use of electronics and IT to further automate production, Russwurm said. Industry 4.0 was based on the use of cyber-physical systems.

The conversation centered around Industrial 4.0 debates the necessity of individuals and the “cyber-physical system”.

“Cyber-physical systems” was defined by the think tank contracted by the German government, Russwurm said. Actually, James Truchard, president and CEO of National Instruments (www.ni.com), promulgated this concept in a presentation in 2006. Those familiar with NI know about its founding concept of a “virtual instrument”; that is, doing instrumentation in software. In this case, he was referring to a virtual representation of a manufacturing process in software. Think simulation, for example.

Humans needed

If this sounds like a lot of automation and computerization, it is. But Russwurm, formerly head of human resources for Siemens, responded that humans will always have a place in manufacturing. “Humans conceptualize, design the product and determine production rules and parameters. CPS (or virtual manufacturing) simulates and compares production options on the basis of instructions, then proposes compliant ‘optimal’ production paths. Step 5 is selection of an optimal production path and implementation of product.”

This represents a shift from rigid, centralized factory control systems to decentralized intelligence. “Tasks that are currently still performed by a central master computer will be taken over by components,” predicted Peter Post, head of corporate research & program strategy at Festo. “These will network with one another in an intelligent way, carry out their own configuration with minimal effort and independently meet the varying requirements of production orders.”

The shift to Industry 4.0 hasn’t quite taken place yet, but it is on its way. However, while industrial automation continues to increase in ability and efficiency, people will still be involved in the manufacturing process in one way or another.

To read more on Industry 4.0, visit Automation World.