Chemistry & Life Sciences

Industry 4.0 – Blurring the Lines between Physical and Digital Worlds

From Understanding the Industry Challenges to How Engineering Software Can Help

09.10.2017 -

It all started with steam and power, next came mass production with the help of electricity, followed by the digital revolution that transformed the way we work. And what is next? The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the latest upheaval in modern manufacturing that focuses on computerization. What are the benefits and challenges brought by this new paradigm? This article discusses the way smarter factories will shape change for the manufacturing industry worldwide.

Industry 4.0 vs. Fourth Industrial Revolution

According to McKinsey, Industry 4.0 can be defined as the next phase in the digitalization of the manufacturing sector, that is inspired by four modern changes in the industry: the recent rise in data volumes, computational power, and connectivity; the emergence of analytics and business-intelligence capabilities; new forms of human-machine interaction such as touch interfaces and augmented reality systems; and improvements in transferring digital instructions to the physical world, such as advanced robotics and 3D printing.

Similarly, according to the 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey by PwC, Industry 4.0 refers to a profound digital transformation that is underway for the leading industrial and manufacturing companies across the globe. The 2,000+ companies that responded to the survey are expecting to dramatically increase their overall level of digitalization. While just 33% rate their company as advanced today, that number jumps to over 70% when looking ahead to 2020.

It is worth to mention that Industry 4.0 and Fourth Industrial Revolution are not necessary synonyms. The earlier refers strictly to the changes taking place in the manufacturing industry, whilst Fourth Industrial Revolution discusses in a wider scope a systemic transformation of the society. With this in mind, this article discusses Industry 4.0 in a more narrow scope, focusing on the effects on manufacturing.

Key Innovations behind Industry 4.0

As stated in the Industry 4.0 briefing by the European Union, Industry 4.0 depends on a number of new and innovative technological developments:

  • The application of information and communication technology (ICT) to digitize information and integrate systems at all stages of product creation and use (including logistics and supply), both inside companies and across company boundaries;
  • Cyber-physical systems that use ICTs to monitor and control physical processes and systems. These may involve embedded sensors, intelligent robots that can configure themselves to suit the immediate product to be created, or additive manufacturing (3D printing) devices;
  • Network communications including wireless and internet technologies that serve to link machines, work products, systems and people, both within the manufacturing plant, and with suppliers and distributors;
  • Simulation, modelling and virtualization in the design of products and the establishment of manufacturing processes;
  • Collection of vast quantities of data, and their analysis and exploitation, either immediately on the factory floor, or through big data analysis and cloud computing;
  • Greater ICT-based support for human workers, including robots, augmented reality and intelligent tools.

Mass Customization and Enhanced Safety

There are several benefits that cyber-physical production systems bring: being able to work in a cloud-environment conveys completely new levels of scalability, flexibility and integrity. Having a real-time feedback loop enabled by sensor technology minimizes errors, provides overview of production line and enables proactive steps to be taken to fix any possible problems. Quickness of sharing data enables real-time and improved decision-making … and the list goes on.

Some of the key benefits for Industry 4.0 also include:

  • Mass customization. Smart factories enable increased flexibility in production. Automation and transmission of data enables different products being produced in one facility.
  • Safety enhancement in dangerous working environments. Safety risks at traditionally risk-prone environments such as off-shore rigs and chemical facilities are lowered by providing augmented reality and simulation solutions.
  • Improved quality. Sensor data can be used to determine errors during the manufacturing phase to proactively identify mistakes.
  • Enhanced productivity. Manufacturing industry can cut downtime by up to 50% with smarter facility solutions, according to the Digital Transformation of European Industry and Enterprises report.

In addition, it is estimated that Industry 4.0 can bring annual efficiency improvements between 6-8%. Only in Germany, Industry 4.0 can deliver 1% per year growth to GDP over the next ten years, bringing up to 390,000 jobs.

Towards Big Data

Many manufacturers are still focusing on the daily management of operational systems instead of directing their attention towards engineering data and information. However, the leap towards Big Data can only happen when actionable and accurate engineering data is made available.

This brings us to the question: how can an owner-operator start to move towards Industry 4.0 and a Big Data environment? The starting point is simple: moving away from a document-centric approach to having a data-centric environment for engineering information. This would include hosting all data and documentation in a centralized location and therefore having a complete representation of the physical asset in a virtual format. Being able to add construction and welding documentation, as well as all the information contributed by suppliers to the database provides an excellent starting point for moving towards a Big Data approach. This enables the owner to answer questions such as:

  • Where throughout all my plants has a certain device (i.e. a sensor or a pump) been deployed?
  • How are the majority of these devices performing?
  • Which ones are derailing from expected performance (corrosion, early failure, etc.) and what could be the root cause for this unexpected behavior?

This approach enables plant owners to gain an unparalleled overview of how their manufacturing facility is performing and take proactive action towards fixing any problems before they result in lowered efficiency, plant downtime or hindered product quality.

The Role of Engineering Information

The first steps towards a Big Data approach and benefiting from Industry 4.0 can be taken by leveraging the already existing data and information. Smarter engineering information management solutions, such as SmartPlant Foundation and SmartPlant Fusion, enable facility owners to turn their scattered, unintelligent data into intelligent engineering information. This information can be checked for accuracy, quality and actuality no matter what the original format is – paper, PDF, network drives or legacy databases. After checking information quality, the actionable information can be made available for all users and applications throughout the company, enabling real-time decision making, improved efficiency and productivity.

This kind of data-centric environment is based on a single instance of an object, and intelligent, reactive relationships between them. These relationships allow owners to manage change and find what they are looking for based on what they know, without having to worry about duplicates or inconsistent data.

Once engineering information is more actionable, accurate and up-to-date, smarter software solutions bring yet another paramount benefit to manufacturers: the ability to access engineering information via a Zero Footprint application, such as Intergraph Smart Enterprise Portal. This type of a browser-based application enables secure access to critical information at any time on almost any platform with a simple link, providing decision makers with the information they need in a timely and efficient manner.

When combined with augmented reality solutions, Zero Footprint applications provide owner operators an unprecedented access to real-time data of the manufacturing facilities.

Another good example of intelligent engineering information benefiting smarter facilities is the ability to enable machine-to-machine communications. With this, manual errors are diminished as the machines can automatically access information and communicate with each other. These types of production control systems already exist, one of them being Intergraph Smart Production. Here, engineering information is used for the partial production and production of weld assemblies, work planning and nesting of parts. Engineering data is also used automatically with the most important production techniques such as cutting, sawing and splitting. This automated process removes manual errors, improving both efficiency and productivity immensely.


The availability of accurate and up-to-date information and improved access to it enables many of the Big Data benefits, such as improved decision making and better forecasting – after all, the more information you have, the better business decisions you can make, which tends to reduce cost while increasing efficiency and productivity.

As the technology continues to advance, the line between the digital and the physical world will continue to blur. Industry 4.0 will enable the manufacturing industry to take a leap to the next level of productivity, safety, and efficiency. These improvements will not come without a price, but with an innovative and trustworthy technology partner, the challenges related to digitalization of manufacturing can be mitigated and engineering data can be turned into an intelligent information asset for the company.