Making the Smart Factory an International Reality

Making the Smart Factory an International Reality

This piece was originally published in the December 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Gunther Koschnick, Managing Director, Automation Division, ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association)


Industrie 4.0 is at the core of new solutions for the Internet of Things, services, and people.

The impact of digitalization is very clear in many industries. Prominent examples include streaming services in the music industry, ride services like Uber, 3D printing, and the digitalization of the media industry. Many of these involve disruptive technologies that not only shake up traditional business models but can even make them obsolete.

Digitalization and networking of production is also changing value chains in industry. This transformation is known in Germany as Industrie 4.0. The term represents the interaction of three factors: the digitalization and integration of value chains toward value creation networks, the digitalization of products and services, and new business models. This results in new solutions being created for the Internet of Things, services, and people. Figure 1 summarizes these three aspects.

End-to-end digitalization facilitates completely new digital business models. Services and offerings are created that bring the user decisive advantages, such as greater efficiency and predictive maintenance of equipment.

Industrie 4.0 and Global Standards

The electrical industry plays a key role when it comes to implementing smart factories in manufacturing and processing. Its know-how, equipment, and systems are the prerequisite for the transition to digital production that will transcend geographical boundaries.

ZVEI made a crucial contribution to Industrie 4.0 in Germany by developing the Industrie 4.0 reference architecture (RAMI 4.0) and the Plattform Industrie 4.0 component in order to work on architecture models and associated standards together and in close cooperation with many different parties, including the mechanical engineering and information and communications technology sectors.

It is intended that workpieces and machines will communicate with each other autonomously within and between smart factories. To do this, the workpiece and production system must be networked to each other intelligently. This only operates via standards that describe the communication between the components. Furthermore, the smart factory is part of a global value creation network, so it needs global standards, preferably developed by internationally recognized standards organizations.

Parallel to this, technical specifications may initially become guidelines for the development of a common standard. An example of this would be specifications that are not fully consensus-based. These documents can be produced more quickly using the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) or Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (known as VDE) rules of special user groups.

This also includes

  • radio links according to IEEE standards;
  • product characteristic descriptions (e.g., those offered by eCl@ss, an international standard for the classification of products and materials); and
  • machine communication, in accordance with standards such as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (known as OPC UA), adopted as DIN EN 62541.

Hence, it is a huge success that RAMI 4.0 and the Industrie 4.0 component have been organized in DIN SPEC format and are on their way to being incorporated as international standards.

The next steps to be taken are standardized semantics and standardized descriptions of characteristics, in order to enable machines to communicate across domains. Also needed are places, e.g., competence centers, where companies may test their Industrie 4.0 solutions.

Read the December 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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