Industry 4.0, a strategy for Europe?

On October 26, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "Germany Bets on 'Smart Factories' to Keep Its Edge Manufacturing"1. It described the Siemens factory in Amberg, near Munich, as an example of the new 4.0 Industry strategy that the German government and a number of large companies are pushing to make what they call the 4th industrial revolution.

This strategy has been drafted by a working group chaired by Dr. Herr Siegfried Dais, PhD in physics by Max Planck and senior management of the multinational Robert Bosch based in Baden Württemberg. It was presented at the 2013 Hanover Fair and it is the centerpiece of the new high tech strategy in German2.

Siemens in Amberg manufactures automatic machines for other German industrial companies like BASF, Bayer AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG, while for other competitors from around the world. They are doing a scanning process for 25 years until today that means a 75% automated process and has 1,150 employees who primarily operate computers and monitor the production process. In the next decade the step is to create a system of intelligent manufacturing self-operated and connected to Internet.

Undoubtedly, Germany persists in its strategy of using ICTs to improve industrial processes to automate them getting them intelligence. For this it counts on the collaboration of Professor Dr. Wahlster3, PhD in "computer science" and an eminence in artificial intelligence.

The German strategy is emerging in the European Union. So the program Horizon 2020 has incorporated the Cyber Physical Systems program, the basic unit of Smart Factory. It also wants that Europe become a continent that adopts the program of the 4th industrial revolution.

But ... only one question… what if the world does not go to the 4th industrial revolution but towards the 1st revolution of the knowledge society?

Imagine that at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, the strategy of the leading countries was to focus on using the new steam engines to produce mainly more potatoes or wheat instead of textiles or new machines. Imagine that a group of PhDs had announced that the world was going towards the next agricultural revolution continuing the process initiated by the large agrarian civilizations of the past.

They would possibly have caused a new agricultural revolution but not the first industrial revolution. The steam engine could be used effectively to produce more food, but they could produce much more than food. They could produce other automatic machines, and be implemented cross-cutting to a set of new economic sectors beyond agriculture. The next step of the agricultural society: the industrial era.

This is the main problem of the Industry 4.0 Strategy: it puts ICT, specifically smart ICT, smart technologies, to the service of industrial production instead of devoting them to lead the transformation of the country into a smart country.

The Americans have also initiated a project that also begins with “smart”, but it is called SmartAmerica. The sectors that it attacks are very different: home/building, climate/environment, disaster recovery, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and security4. It is a project of state, such as ICT, strategic technologies, that depend on the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House.

Now is the tome to decide here in Catalonia. Do we bet on the first revolution of knowledge, or on the 4th industrial revolution? I2cat thinks that betting on the first option, to Smartcat strategy is the best way to promote a real smart industry. ICT can and must lead, the industrial technologies must follow. Not vice versa. We need a SmartEurope strategy, to begin with.

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