One of the signs that something is a hype in IT business is that it is overused and often also misused by trend-setters, though leaders and vendors. It is apparent this has happened to Industry 4.0. How to go about this? We discuss how to approach this topic in a sober, productive way.

The origins of the term Industry 4.0 can be tracked down to a project about the high-tech strategy of the German government from year 2011, which promoted the computerization of manufacturing. The term Industry 4.0 was publicly introduced in the same year at the Hannover Fair. Nowadays, this term is used by almost every IT or industrial automation company to describe their products or services – and it is creating unnecessary confusion.


The point that we are trying to make is that vendors are not selling Industry 4.0, they are selling and implementing specific products like robots, PLCs, MES / MOM solutions, CMMS, WMS, CAD, etc. The vast majority of vendors will use big words to make an impression on their potential customers, Industry 4.0 being one of them. However, they will finally sell and implement a specific product with a very defined, limited scope. Maybe even a product that deals with only a few banal processes that are not really that important for the operation of the company. This can create the illusion that the company is using the latest technology and is among the advanced and efficient, while it has in fact not yet implemented some very important technologies and concepts that could significantly improve its operations.

Are you a shift leader, production manager or an enterprise owner in manufacturing? Let me ask you a simple question: how long does it take you to find out exactly what every man & machine in your production is doing in a given moment? Can you quantify this information? Assuming you are able to get it in the first place… And we are talking about real-time data, not the data from yesterday or from the start of the shift.

In case you hesitate with the answer or you would need significantly more than 3 minutes at your desk to get the right information, let me give you a piece of advice: Do not worry about Industry 4.0, Smart Factory or Internet of Things… You need something different.

We, humans, have a remarkable ability to imagine what we want to achieve at the end of a project, but we tend to forget what has to be done on the way towards the goal. We have to structure the project into smaller tasks and individual steps in order to succeed. The same logic applies to Industry 4.0.

From what we have seen during our MES/MOM implementation projects in many European countries, we can say that the Danish Industry 4.0 is very different from the Romanian Industry 4.0. Why? Let us give you a few examples:

  • the readiness of the local production processes;
  • migration of technology in the corporate environment (old IMMs travel from the West to the East);
  • different demands on technology, the willingness of people to use the latest trends.

We believe that the point makes itself clear enough without any further explanation. We can discuss Advanced planning and scheduling (APS), Augmented Reality (AR), Additive Manufacturing (AM) and more… However, if you do not deal with basic processes like data collection from machines and operators, ERP integration or databases first, then Industry 4.0 is just a hype, that is keeping you from working on improving your manufacturing process in a reasonable sequence of steps. We should not and cannot skip any step on the way towards excellence in information support for manufacturing (which is the main point of Industry 4.0 in the first place).

So the question is, how to get there? How to achieve the dream of living Industry 4.0? You should probably start asking suppliers of “Industry 4.0”, how ready they are and how robust are their solution and services.

Check the processes first

Read ISA-95 and get inspired! Do not look for a partial solution. It will probably need further integration with other software in the near future and that will bring you more expenses. Look for a real MES / MOM system that covers the processes that you want to cover. For the beginning, let us make it simple - focus on the following areas in the given order. You can swap C D E according to the actual state of the process:

  1. Real-time Production Control & Monitoring (lack of work confirmations at the end of each shift, delayed information about machine downtime, no data about coffee breaks…)
  2. Quality Assurance (data collection and evaluation, reporting, optimization, corrective measures…)
  3. Production scheduling in real time that reflects the actual state of machines, stock supplies, availability of personnel, downtimes, maintenance, malfunctions…
  4. Production logistics (unique identification of products, packaging units, traceability of pieces, KANBAN…)
  5. Maintenance (predictive maintenance, automated generating of requests for maintenance in real time, reporting, connection to the real time scheduling…)

Evaluate the flexibility of integration

Is the product open and ready to communicate with products of other vendors? We mean API, User Reports, Visualization Screens Editor, XAML (user editable graphical interface of the Production Client…)

Check the technology in the production facility

What is the available standard for data collection? OPC UA, OPC DA, MTConnect, Euromap 63, Euromap 77, VE 437, RS-xxx… Is the product able to integrate with older machinery or with 3rd party software?

Does the product have a clear, demonstrated roadmap and does it follow the latest trends?

Cloud versus on premise operation, one time payment versus subscription, Additive Manufacturing (AM), Augmented Reality (AR)…

Development and support of the product

regular SW updates, compliance with industry standards like IATF 16 949, FDA CFR Part 11 and others.

Capability to execute roll-outs abroad

Can your vendor/integrator cover your factories abroad? Are there any foreign integration partners supporting the product? Direct or indirect implementation? How many language localizations are there?
I am sure that you do not want to buy any IT solution because it is has nice features. You have to look for a solid solution, a service that will dynamically adapt to you and your customers’ needs. Do not look for shortcuts and forget all the ready-to-go box softwares.
An IT solution is not something that you implement and forget. It is something that you implement, support, grow and evolve every day, together with your company and with the requirements of your customers.

Jiří Jakubec

Business Developer MES PHARIS IPP

UNIS, a.s. | Control & Information Systems

Mitja Stiglic

Business Solution Architect

S&T Slovenija d.d.