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Industry 4.0 concepts

Industry 4.0 concepts

I have had to abandon the development of the web and the blog for a while due to work, which is always appreciated, but it leaves neglected the possibility of dealing with topics of interest and related to technology. We will resume the publications again with this new post.

A few months ago, I had dealt with a very specific topic focused on the Asset Administration Shell, and now I have preferred, before continuing to talk about different topics related to Industry 4.0, to make a small introduction.

Actually, there is already a lot written on the web and a lot of information about this term and what is hidden behind it. Therefore, with this post I intend to give some more information and focus on approaches or concepts that are not usually shown and that may not be clear, as well as to show the technologies that will not only be important within the industry in the coming years, but also in other sectors.

Origin of Industry 4.0

As with many topics, I like to show some history, to know where we come from, and to better understand where we are going.

The term Industry 4.0 was first coined in 2011 at a trade fair in Hannover. In 2013 it was officially coined in Germany as a necessary response to the low labour costs in non-European countries, using technology and R&D.

In addition, and as we are seeing with events such as the current shortage of microchips or raw materials, attempts are being made to return to relocation, as opposed to the delocalisation of recent years, so as not to be dependent on geographically distant areas, thus minimising logistical problems.

From a technological point of view, the main driver or cause of Industry 4.0 is the use and deployment of cyber-physical systems (CPS), and the so-called Internet of Things or Industrial Internet of Things (IoT, IIoT) that fostered and evolved 3 important points:

  • Digitalisation.
  • Advanced automation.
  • Intelligence in industrial processes.

Information Technologies and Operational Technologies

On the other hand, until relatively recently, the IT (Information Technologies) and OT (Operational Technologies) worlds were clearly differentiated and separated from each other, with hardly any communication between them. Let us remember:
  • The production (OT) world is made up of PLCs, SCADAs, machines, process control.
  • The IT world tended to move more towards the cloud, databases, the MES, ERP…

However, in recent years this barrier or boundary has become blurred and the flow of data between the two worlds has increased significantly, thanks to the development of CPS making it necessary to have an infrastructure that supports such communication.

This is also mainly due to the huge amount of data that is communicated between the two worlds thanks to the large number of sensors installed in industrial lines or all the data provided by smartphones, wearables, etc., generating petabytes of information.

Relación entre CPS e IIoT


Let’s take a look at both concepts:

CPS: Cyber-Physical Systems, are systems that integrate computing devices and sensors connected to the world around them, obtaining a more detailed knowledge of the environment, with the ability to take advantage of all the distributed intelligence by being able to connect with each other. They also provide services and communicate existing and available data to the network.

IoT-IIoT: The concept is more abstract and involves a global infrastructure and the connection of physical and virtual devices (Things/persons) to the Internet and eventually to each other, enabling advanced services anywhere and anytime.

In the following image we can see a clear representation of the relationship between both concepts and Industry 4.0. Not everything that is IoT or CPS is Industry 4.0, but without the progress made in recent years in both technologies it would not have been possible to reach the state we are in today.


Arquitecturas de referencia

Although not very well known, it is always necessary to create a reference model that can be used in different cases and that can also be used as a basis for other types of models. The main objective is to offer companies a common framework for the development of future products and new business models, by being clear about the function of each element or the communications between them. In technology, we can mention the OSI model or the ISA 95 standard.

The latter standard, which is the classic automation pyramid, has become almost obsolete, especially as a result of this union between the IT and OT worlds, making it necessary to establish a global standard within the architectures that are being used in Industry 4.0.

We can no longer stick to a series of vertical levels with few connections between them… now everything is connected, not only vertically but also horizontally.

Today we can mention 2 main architectures: RAMI 4.0 (Reference Architectural Model Industrie 4.0) and IIRA (Industrial Internet Reference Architecture). Years ago, there was a third one, OpenFog, but nowadays this architecture has merged with the Industrial Internet Consortium (which supports IIRA).

We will not dwell on each architecture because of the complexity involved. That’s a story for another, more specific post.

RAMI 4.0

The RAMI framework defines how I4.0 components communicate and interact with each other and how they can be coordinated to achieve the objectives specified by companies. We can say that it comes from the OT world.

RAMI 4.0

Industrial Internet Reference Architecture

In this case, the basis comes from the IT world.

Internet Industrial RA


Industry 4.0 encompasses a series of technologies that we see represented in the following figure. Perhaps not all of them are there, or the nomenclature differs from other similar figures, but I think it is a good summary. We can also add Blockchain and the concept of Hyperautomation as two major trends in recent years, which I include as two central elements.

If we do the exercise of intersecting this subset with other environments or sectors as disparate as video games or mobile applications, we can get with the most important technologies among those mentioned, but which have in common their great importance, both now and in the future.

At the intersection that remains, I find 6 technologies that are going to be predominant in the coming years:

  • IoT.
  • 5G.
  • Cybersecurity.
  • Virtual and augmented reality.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Blockchain.
Tecnologies of Industry 4.0

Concepts in Industry 4.0

As we have seen in the previous section, the world of Industry 4.0 encompasses a large number of technologies, some of them more widespread and commonplace, others less so. But it also includes a series of concepts that may not be sufficiently clear if we read them in isolation in a general article or because they are not so widespread in everyday life. Let us summarise some of the concepts that can be found:

Edge computing

This is about acquiring, processing and analysing data as close as possible to where it was created. Why do you want to do this? There is an increasing amount of data being sent from a production line, because more and more sensors are installed. The raw data, as it is generated, is too much if you want to send it all over the same medium, requiring a communication network with excessive requirements. The advantages of using Edge Computing include:

  • Less latency.
  • Less bandwith expenditure.
  • Higher speed.
  • Real Time control.
  • Work offline.
  • Increased security. Well, in this case there is some controversy as there are actually more devices connected to the network.

In the following image we can clearly see where these elements would be located, which on the other hand, would not replace the cloud, but would improve the transmission of data to it.


Smart factory

Also called Connected Factory, it is a consequence of Industry 4.0, being a highly digitalised environment in which all systems are connected to each other and whose main objective is the connection between the real physical world and the digital factory.

Moreover, these industrial plants would be collaborative and interact with each other, generating a real-time flow of information that is processed and analysed for immediate or even predictive decision-making. This is precisely one of the reasons why the use of Edge Computing is necessary today.

These types of factories adapt dynamically and respond in real time in many different aspects: identification of demand, changes in factory configuration, supply chain or maintenance. This is only possible if there is communication at all levels, from the plant to the supply chain.

End-to-End engineering

Basically, it is about developing complex systems, products or services, but including all phases from the beginning, from initial design to recycling or dismantling.

Digital thread

This concept enables a connected data flow and an integrated data visualisation system throughout the entire life cycle of a product, enabling digitalisation and the so-called digital twin.

In many cases, a simulation phase is included within the different stages, allowing changes or designs to be tested without actually having the product. The simulated tests and the changes resulting from the results would also be included in the digital thread that communicates all the points.

Digital Thread

3D modelling and Simulation: Digital Twins

In this case it is a virtual representation that serves as a digital counterpart of a physical product or process. Initially the definition of a digital twin did not include simulation, but nowadays it is generally included, so that plant simulations can be performed with real data and can provide KPIs to take a choice about real situations.


This concept is based on the ease or capacity to exchange data between two or more systems or components and to use the required information without any effort from the user. It usually implies having a set of standards and specifications to ensure the integration and flow of data both within and outside the company or sector.

A clear example is the current pandemic situation. Each of the existing actors in the healthcare sector must be able to communicate fluently and have the same language in order to arrive at a quick and reliable solution. If hospitals, pharmacies, emergency departments, users, laboratories, etc. cannot exchange information, precious time is lost, costing time and, more importantly in this case, lives.


Asset Administration Shell

I refer you to a post in which I dealt with this issue in greater depth and which may help you to understand the concept correctly.

Asset Administration Shell

AutomationML and OPC-UA

AutomationML describes the structure of the data and the information that is sent and received, while OPC-UA determines how this information exchange takes place. I will dedicate a post to these two concepts because of their importance in Industry 4.0.



The world of Industry 4.0, digitalisation and communication at all levels (industrial or otherwise) is a reality and is here to stay. Companies that do not jump on this bandwagon will be outdated and possibly disappear in a short period of time. Now more than ever it is necessary to “Renew or die”, or more modernly “Go digital or die”.

If you are interested in a more specific post on each of the topics discussed, do not hesitate to post it in the comments and I will work on it to provide more information.

Interesting links

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