The future is “on”

Machines that can think for themselves, complex 3D printer components, smart glasses that are able to communicate with machines, and logistics that can manage their own organization. These are not fantasies of science fiction, but already the reality in Germany’s factories.

Source: gettyimages/golero

Who knows what … about Industrie 4.0?

Every day, you can read, hear or see something about it – Industrie 4.0 is reported on all channels. But what does it actually mean? What technical terms should we know?

Industrie 4.0 represents a completely networked and integrated value creation, in which industrial technologies are interlinked with information and communication technology. People, machines, plants, logistics and products communicate and cooperate with each other over the Internet. Industrie 4.0 is also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution (see the report on “Work 4.0”). This communication can take place both vertically (locally, on a production site) as well as horizontally (decentralized, over several sites).

Internet of Things (IoT)

The term “Internet of Things” refers to the increasing networking between intelligent objects – both among themselves and externally through the Internet. Different objects, everyday items or machines are equipped with processors and embedded sensors enabling them to communicate with each other via the Internet.

Cyber-physical Systems (CPS)

Cyber-physical systems are systems in which information technology and software components are connected with mechanical and electronic parts. The data transfer and exchange, as well as the control and management are generally carried out in real time over the Internet.

Big Data

Big Data is a term for data sets that are too large, too complex, too unstructured or too fast for traditional methods of data processing.


Digitalization describes the transition towards digital products, digital processes and digital thinking using information and communication technologies. This transformation requires a comprehensive change within companies in terms of structure, strategy and culture and has significant impacts on their employees, too.

Smart Factory

Smart Factory describes a decentralized and highly automated production environment in which intelligent workpieces, production plants and logistics systems largely organize themselves. This is achieved through digitally networked systems. They represent machines and resources in digital form and enable communication in real time via the Internet of Things.

Smart Products

Smart Products have the ability to collect and communicate data on their own manufacturing and operational processes during the manufacturing and usage phases. This makes it possible to represent manufacturing processes in mechanical engineering digitally and to offer the customer data-based services in the usage phase, such as 3D representations of their future product.

0 or 1, true or false, on or off

Digitalization isn’t quite that simple. However, thanks to the binary code, information is available in electronic form over the Internet at all times and all places. No one can elude the technological possibilities associated with global networking today.

This applies to our private lives, where the use of information sources on the Internet, media libraries, streaming services and social media has long been part of everyday life. It also applies to the economy, where digitalization for Industrie 4.0 provides completely new perspectives for industrial production. With innovations from technology and IT, “Made in Germany” remains a promise of success in the future.

Using the binary code, information can be displayed as a sequence of two different symbols (for example, 0 and 1) and converted into digital data. The smallest information unit consists of 0 and 1 and is referred to as the bit in computer science. The binary code for 125 is 1111101.

Who knows what … about Industrie 4.0?


Ask the robot

Source: iStock/jpgfactory
Source: Festo AG & Co. KG

The friendly support of machines is no longer limited to motion pictures. Nowadays machines are already capable of interacting with people, monitoring the environment, identifying problems and proposing solutions. These abilities are based on artificial intelligence (AI), thanks to which, machines can learn to think and become cognitive systems. For example, they can learn to understand voice signals and to communicate with the user. The language assistance for smartphones or Internet services already shows that these technologies are suitable for everyday use.

Intelligent mechanical assistance simplifies work tasks

The use of AI in production does not aim to replace humans with machines that possess artificial consciousness. Rather, it is about simplifying work tasks through intelligent mechanical assistance. Thus, robots with cognitive abilities such as the ability to judge distances or perform fine motor tasks are able to undertake physically heavy, monotonous or even dangerous tasks. In addition, AI solutions are able to make complex situations more understandable. Further strengths of the use of AI in production include the ability to draw the right conclusions from a myriad of information and operating data. The potential for mechanical engineering lies mainly in the fields of predictive maintenance and repair as well as energy and resource management.

Give me your hand

The ExoHand developed by Festo is an exoskeleton that can be worn like a glove. The fingers can be actively moved and their strength amplified; the operator’s hand movements are registered and transmitted to the robotic hand in real time.

Digitalization for everyone

A Kaiser dough stamp is a tool used in industrial bread roll production. The spiral shape is dented into the dough in a rotary movement and produces the swirl, which gives the subsequent Kaiser roll its characteristic appearance. This tool, which has to meet the highest standards on hygiene, was produced using an industrial 3D printer or an additive manufacturing process.

In order to manufacture delicious Kaiser rolls on an industrial scale, a particular baking tool is required. Source: Fotolia/Arkadiusz Fajer
The dough stamp made from polyamide is manufactured using selective laser sintering. The stamp gives the Kaiser roll its characteristic shape. Source: VDMA

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a digital replica of a real object, for example a component, a machine or a system. It is based on a three-dimensional CAD model, which holds all the properties, functions and process parameters of the real object. The advantages of using this digital tool extend over the entire lifetime of a component or system.

The abbreviation CAD stands for computer-aided design and signifies the use of computers for the creation of a design.

Source: Fotolia/peshkova

Advantage no. 1: Efficient product development with smooth commissioning

Even during development, the digital replica makes it possible to test and improve a product which has not yet been produced. This is all possible because functional key data concerning the future use has already been fed into the digital twin. The commissioning can also be carried out virtually during the product development phase and the product can also be optimized to that effect. Therefore, errors can be avoided and time and money can be saved, because expensive prototypes are no longer needed. In addition, the digital replica can be integrated into the higher-level production planning, so that the digital mapping of the entire manufacturing is possible. In this way, a real product of high quality and optimal design is created.

Advantage no. 2: Optimal operation through transparency and simulation

After production, the digital twin remains in contact with its physical counterpart via the Internet and they continue to exchange information. A large number of sensors are used to transmit the operating status of the real object to the digital image continuously. In this way, the digital twin always reflects the real, physical condition. In addition, operating data analysis and simulation scenarios – where AI concepts can also be used – make it possible to detect or prevent errors at an early stage, to plan optimal modernization measures and to shorten retooling times. Nevertheless, should disruptions still occur, appropriate solutions can be developed and tested virtually.

Source: VDMA

INDIE40 is a paper prototype. While building it, you can learn the basic principles behind Industrie 4.0 in a hands-on approach. Try it now:

3D printing – From a digital blueprint to a real component in just one step

During additive manufacturing, components are produced layer by layer using a multilayered computer model. Powdered high-performance materials – metals, plastics and composite materials – are welded according to the digital blueprint using a laser. It is now even possible for highly complex components such as gas turbine blades to undergo additive manufacturing – this represents a breakthrough for the process. The printed turbine blades are made from a powdered, high-temperature resistant superalloy with polycrystalline nickel. The blades withstand the high pressure as well as the enormous temperatures and centrifugal forces that arise during turbine operation. 3D printing, with the advantages of being fast, flexible and efficient, will occupy a firm place in the industrial value chain – both for prototyping and for series production.

What is a digital twin?


Everything in motion

With Industrie 4.0, the demands on logistics are growing. Maximum transparency, adherence to schedules and individualized products or services are all required. With their diverse solutions, intralogistics companies are, in the true sense of the word, trailblazers for networked production.

“Industrie 4.0 has made intralogistics a fundamental element in production. Autonomous transportation equipment, intelligent storage automation and a self-optimizing material flow planning are important solutions for a flexible production supply.”

Dr. Klaus-Dieter RosenbachChairman of the board of directors of the VDMA Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association and Member of the Board at Jungheinrich AG

I spy with my little eye

The gaming environment from Pokémon Go is based on the principle of augmented reality. Source: iStock/Wachiwit
Augmented reality technology is often used to undertake maintenance work on a machine. Source: Ergosign GmbH

Sophisticated computer games allow us to enter other worlds and leave reality behind. Experts speak of immersion, a state in which the user perceives the virtual – meaning the digitally generated – environment as real. The technology behind this is called virtual reality (VR). The blending of the physical and virtual world is called augmented reality (AR). Almost everyone knows or uses AR. Popular examples include the line seen on the screen in television broadcasts of soccer games and apps for playing games and star gazing.

Smart glasses provide new perspectives

This enhanced perception of reality has also been successfully established in industrial production. Smart glasses support production staff in their tasks by providing information on the sequence of work and superimposing instructions, for example, as far as material selection or the right time for starting an operation is concerned. This means that employees have their hands free to work and can also detect errors more quickly. Since communication is set up directly with an expert team via the Internet, this speeds up the process of finding a solution for errors. Maintenance and repair are therefore another important field of application for smart glasses.

VR technologies are also interesting for production. Examples are the optimized design of production systems or the accelerated commissioning of machines and systems using a VR-supported model. This simulation of reality can drastically reduce the cost and efforts involved in designing and implementing test series.

Augmented reality in the real world

KBA’s augmented reality technology is used in the maintenance of industrial web printers. The KBA experts at the service center see, in real time, exactly the same as the technicians at the customer’s site. This makes troubleshooting faster and more efficient.

What is behind predictive maintenance?

Source: Fotolia/Andrey Popov
Source: Fotolia/zapp2photo

Knowing your level of fitness, or creating an optimal training and nutrition plan – these are just a few examples of the possibilities offered by health apps. They provide health care support based on the analysis of relevant data, such as pulse, blood pressure or hours of sleep. Transferred to machines and systems, predictive maintenance works according to a very similar principle: Overview of the system status, comparison with reference values, deduced information and recommendation of measures.

Transparency and intelligent forecasts for fewer production downtimes

Predictive maintenance is the term for the maintenance, repair and forecasting of the remaining service life of machine components based on a continuous measurement and evaluation of operating data. Disruptions and impending downtimes of machine components can be avoided by permanent condition monitoring and data evaluation. Intelligent sensors handle the collection of real time information. Powerful communication networks and computing platforms ensure data transmission and evaluation. The evaluation uses simulation models which are able to recognize, simulate and evaluate patterns within operating data. These patterns allow the exact calculation of service life expectancy as well as the networking of all operating data.

The forecasting capability makes it possible to support processes and decisions in the company’s production and service environment in a targeted manner. This also creates new opportunities for collaboration, where suppliers of predictive maintenance solutions cooperate with customers as a partner in the value chain. Due to these diverse technical and business potentials, it is not surprising that, according to a recent VDMA study, more than 80 percent of mechanical engineering companies are already dealing extensively with the topic of predictive maintenance. More information on the study can be found here.

Much more than “bits and pieces”

Well over half of the German population owns a smartphone – this is one of many figures that impressively demonstrates how digitalization is progressing.

What is behind predictive maintenance?



of all EU citizens (16 to 74 years old) use the Internet at least once a week.
(Source: Bitkom)



devices, machines, systems and robots will be interconnected over the IoT in 2020
(Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ericsson, Cisco)



more sales in Germany in 2017 through Industrie 4.0
(Source: Bitkom)


The first iPhone was brought onto the market



is how long the commercial Internet has already been online.
(Source: BMWi)

Digital daily life

A look through the digital technologies that mechanical and plant engineering can no longer do without.

How much do you about digitalization?

Question 1/6

1 VDMA is celebrating its 125-year anniversary in 2017. What is the binary code for the number 125?

  • 5060102
  • 1111101
  • 110000

Question 2/6

2 What is augmented reality?

  • An enhanced perception of reality
  • An immersion into other worlds
  • A digitalized world

Question 3/6

3 What does predictive maintenance mean?

  • Forecasting of future production capacities
  • Predictive maintenance and repair
  • Scheduling for maintenance of a machine

Question 4/6

4 When did the commercial use of the Internet begin?

  • 2007
  • 2001
  • 1990

Question 5/6

5 Which materials can be processed using industrial 3D printing?

  • Plastics and composite materials
  • Metals
  • Plastics, metals and composite materials

Question 6/6

6 What are cyber-physical systems?

  • A way to gain access to third-party software systems
  • Systems in which physical information technology and mechanical components are connected with each other.
  • Platforms for computer games

Your result: %

You answerd of 6 questions correctly

Useful links

Industrie forum

VDMA has pooled its internal know-how in the Forum Industrie 4.0, made up of an interdisciplinary team of VDMA experts. As partners, they offer practical support to the member companies and the VDMA associations and departments in the relevant areas of activity.


Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association

With 225 current member companies, which generate a production volume of approximately € 20.8 billion (2016), the Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association is the most important intralogistics association in Europe.


Additive Manufacturing working group

The VDMA Additive Manufacturing working group offers its members from industry and research everything related to the technologies of industrial 3D printing. This is where potential users across the sectors and development partners from the industry come together.


Fraunhofer: Artificial intelligence and cognitive systems

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Fraunhofer Society) focuses on research fields of artificial intelligence (AI) at many of its institutes and their applications in the fields of robotics, image and speech processing as well as process optimization.


Software and Digitalization Association

The consulting services of the Software and Digitalization Association demonstrate the ways towards Industrie 4.0 and successful digital strategies.


VDMA Startup Machine

VDMA launched the Startup Machine in the year of its 125th anniversary: The goal of this new grouping is to bring together start-up companies and mechanical engineering companies and to support joint projects.


BMWi: Shaping the digital transformation

Digitalization is also at the top of the agenda of the Federal Government. The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has analyzed the opportunities for Germany as a business location and how to use them.


BMBF: Digital economy and society

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is promoting the development of a digital society with a wide range of activities and incentives.



Dr. Beate Metten

VDMA Forum Industrie 4.0

Beate Metten has been responsible for member communication in the Forum Industrie 4.0 since 2014. She holds a doctorate in geoscience and has been responsible for the public relations work in various organizational units of VDMA since 1997. She is also the chief editor of various VDMA publications.

Thomas Riegler

Software and Digitalization Association

Thomas Riegler has been a consultant at VDMA since 1999. He is responsible for customer service from an IT perspective. Important topics are service management systems, teleservice, knowledge management, electronic spare parts catalogs as well as Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 and Big Data.

Dr. Claudia Weise

rubicondo – Project management and communications agency

Dr. Claudia Weise has been an independent consultant since 2007. As a learned process engineer, she supports her customers in the fields of energy and mechanical and plant engineering in consulting, innovation and communication projects.