In the 2016 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Mario Hermann of TU Dortmund University, Tobias Pentek of CDQ AG and Boris Otto of Fraunhofer IML published a paper on “Design Principles for Industrie 4.0 Scenarios“. This paper gave a very good insight on what is so distinctive about Industry 4.0 compared to the industrial technologies that have been around for decades.
In the many workshops and conferences I have conducted, one of the poll I asked the audiences is what do they understand by Industry 4.0. Different audiences from different organizations, from different countries will have a different perspective on what it is about. And this paper also start off with this important phenomenon – “a generally accepted understanding for the term (Industrie 4.0) does not exist”.
That brings us to the next important question which is on most people’s mind, what’s so special about Industrie 4.0. Robotics and PLCs have been around for decades. Artificial Intelligence have been taught in school since the 80s. Are we just giving existing technologies a new name?
At the introduction, the paper gave an insight which has been repeated among speakers on this topic that “for the first time an industrial revolution is predicted apriori, not observed ex-post”.
The paper thereafter highlighted that the main consortium – including Plattform Industrie 4.0 only describe the vision, the basic technologies the idea aims at, and selected scenarios, but do not provide a clear definition.
With people having difficulty in explaining what Industrie 4.0 really is, the paper strive to clarify it through systemization of knowledge by describing the design principles. Design principles are the foundation of design theory.
The authors conducted their research using text analytics and focus groups, to narrowing it down to the 4 main design principles listed below. Image is from the paper – Design Principles for Industrie 4.0 Scenarios.
“Machines, devices, sensors, and people are connected over the Internet of Things and Internet of People and form the Internet of Everything.” One key enabler is ubiquitous internet access such as use of wireless technologies. With that, information can be easily shared, thus enabling new ways of collaboration. For this collaboration to work, there is a need to establish common communication standards, which is what the Industrial Internet Consortium and Plattform Industrie 4.0 are working together on.
2. Information transparency
Enabled by  Interconnection, “the fusion of the physical and virtual world enables a new form of information transparency. Through linking sensor data with digitalized plant models, a virtual copy of the physical world is created.” This is also known as the Digital Twin.
3. Decentralized decisions
With  Interconnection and  Information transparency, “the combination of interconnected and decentralized decision-makers allows to utilize local with global information at the same time for better decision-making.” These decentralized decisions are enabled by the Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). These are embedded computers with sensors – agents, for monitoring and controlling the physical world autonomously.
4. Technical assistance
“Due to the increasing complexity of production, where CPS form complex networks and make decentralized decisions, humans need to be supported by assistance systems. These systems need to aggregate and visualize information comprehensibly to ensure that humans can make informed decision and solve urgent problems on short notice.” These are usually deployed in companies in the form of the control towers or smart devices.
The paper then went to describe on how the four derived design principles can be applied to a case study.
In the last few years since I started working on this topic of Industry 4.0, I find this paper is able to link the different parts of Industry 4.0 holistically together. I strongly recommend anyone who have great interest in this topic of Industry 4.0 to use it as a reference for their deeper applications into this topic.