| Glossary | Economy & Labour | Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0

Definition and delimitation

The term Industry 4.0 refers to the plan to achieve a fourth industrial revolution through the digitalisation of production [1].

  • In the first industrial revolution, beginning at the end of the 18th century, mechanical work by people was replaced by steam engines [2].
  • In the second industrial revolution, mass production based on the division of labour began at the beginning of the 20th century on an assembly line with the help of electrical energy [2].
  • In the third industrial revolution, since the end of the 1970s, machines have been controlled by computers on factory floors and word processing programs have been used in offices, among other things [2].
  • In the fourth industrial revolution, computerised machines are supposed to communicate with each other (see Internet of Things [3]) and with people in order to organise themselves independently [2].

Industry 4.0 includes the following principles, among others [3]:

  • Networking: machines, sensors and people are networked (wirelessly) so that they can work together [3]. Through communication standards, machines from different manufacturers can be combined flexibly and modularly to enable production in batch size 1 or individualised production.
  • Information transparency: Sensor data and digital models are collected and analysed to create a virtual copy (also called a “digital twin”) of physical production facilities for use in production [5] of physical production facilities for better decision-making [3].
  • Decentralised decisions: So-called cyber-physical systems (CPS) consisting of computers, sensors and actuators use local and global information to produce as autonomously as possible and only ask for help when there are problems [3].
  • Technical assistance: The role of humans is shifting from operators of machines to strategic decision makers and flexible problem solvers [3]. They are supported by assistance systems that collect knowledge for decision-making and visualise it on smartphones and tablets, for example, and by collaborative robots that can work smoothly and safely with humans [3].

In reference to Industry 4.0, the term Work 4.0 deals with how work can be socially designed in the future, both in relation to Industry 4.0 and, for example, in relation to new forms of work such as crowdworking [4].

The reference architecture model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI4.0), standardised as DIN SPEC 91345, describes technical assets in a three-dimensional layer model consisting of the axes Architecture (Layers), Life Cycle & Value Stream and Hierarchy [8].

Industrie 4.0 is a German term, but similar efforts have also emerged in other countries (Industry 4.0). In the USA, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was founded to promote Industry 4.0, which is understood there as the Internet of Things, Smart Production and the Industrial Internet, as well as the development of new business models (Smart Services) [16].


in 2011, the Industrie 4.0 initiative was publicly presented at the Hannover Messe and the future project Industrie 4.0 was presented to the German government [9]. In autumn 2012, the Industry 4.0 working group of the BMBF’s Industry-Science Research Union issued its implementation recommendation for the future project, which found its place in the High-Tech Strategy 2020 action plan [10].

At the Hannover Messe 2013, the Industrie 4.0 platform was publicly presented, which at that time consisted of a merger of the industry associations Bitkom, VDMA and ZVEI and has since been expanded further and further [10].

in 2018, the working group “Digital Business Models in Industry 4.0” was founded, which deals with the question of how to create the basis for digital business models within the framework of Industry 4.0 [11].

in 2019, the Guiding Principles 2030 were presented at the Hannover Messe by the Industrie 4.0 platform, which formulates a holistic approach to the design of digital ecosystems [12].

Applications and examples

  • RITTAL: Production of compact control cabinets and small enclosures [6]
  • CLOOS: Information and communication tool – C-Gate [7]
  • The manufacturer- and platform-independent communication standard OPC UA is seen as a key technology for Industry 4.0, e.g. to enable plug-and-produce and cyber-physical systems [13]. Plug-and-produce means the integration of new devices into a production line with minimal or no manual effort, analogous to plug-and-play for PCs [14]. Cyber-physical systems closely network software and physical components, e.g. in autonomous vehicles, robotic systems, smart grids or industrial control systems [15].


The bidt supports several research projects, including in the larger context of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation. The project “Empowerment in Tomorrow’s Production: Rethinking Mixed Skill Factories and Collaborative Robot Systems” is investigating novel concepts for human-robot collaboration in factories that can contribute to the humanisation of work.

The project “Digital Transformation of Automobile Manufacturers – a Question of Identity” looks at the entrepreneurial and social consequences of technical change and new technologies.

The project “Workplaces in Transition: Technology and Competence Adaptation by Companies and Individuals” examines how new technologies in the context of digital transformation affect the interaction of people and technologies in the workplace as well as the need for and acquisition of skills by employees.

The doctoral project “Skilled Work 4.0 – How Digitalisation is Making Skilled Work Attractive Again” examines how skilled work is being transformed by the digital transformation, how skilled workers are involved in it and how this affects the attractiveness of this field.