Subscribe to Blog Updates

Bullshit Bingo 4.0

When the German government published its policy paper on Industry 4.0 in 2013, there was a sense of excitement about the future. At COPA-DATA, terms such as IIoT and Smart Factory were being hotly debated. In this article, I look back at the hype — and reflect on where the journey could lead next.
Playing Bullshit Bingo for digitalization

From the mid-2010s onwards, Industry 4.0 took off and generated considerable hype in many manufacturing industries. Concepts such as IIoT and the Smart Factory were discussed intensely by companies.

Approaches such as modular automation or cyber-physical systems were not yet widespread. At that time, COPA-DATA was already very well positioned in this area, and many of the things that were in the papers back then, such as vertical integration, were already standard for us. Other topics such as artificial intelligence (AI) are only now coming to the forefront. 

Industry 4.0 for all systems? 

The hype of Industry 4.0 and associated buzzwords accelerated development by stimulating public discussion. In the 2010s, every system suddenly became an Industry 4.0 system as everyone jumped onboard. However, many companies are not even Industry-3.0-ready at present. The foundation for Industry 4.0 is missing in many places.  

 But we see only a limited usefulness for such buzzwords. People have heard enough of these new concepts, and are instead asking: ”How do I solve the issue?” This is also COPA-DATA’s approach: to offer ready-made solution packages – from systems for simple photovoltaics with battery storage applications to the automation integration layer.  

Weaknesses of the tech giants  

Big tech companies have had difficulty understanding the challenges and needs of customers‘ needs in the field of industrial automation. Some have not gained a foothold , or have done so very slowly, This is because the market is comparatively small. Publicly listed corporations need to show quick financial success to keep investors happy. As a result, business areas that require staying power have a relatively difficult time of it. Google IoT Core, for example, was quickly discontinued.  

COPA-DATA is positioned differently, in that we only do industrial automation, and we’re really good at it. Customers appreciate that we have more in store than just buzzwords. COPA-DATA has also grown organically – without acquisitions, step by step, based on a solid foundation. That’s important because Industry 4.0 needs robust systems.

In the world of industrial automation, systems sometimes run for 20 years and therefore must be maintained and updated regularly. Any attempt to build an industrial application from tossed together, open-source components is doomed to failure. 

Technology from the Fourth Industrial Revolution is being used increasingly, with industrial facilities, value chains and business models being optimized for significant financial and operational return. However, the conventional manufacturer is not ready yet, especially when it comes to advanced manufacturing. Perhaps 20 percent of companies actually do what we would consider advanced manufacturing. The remainder use conventional automation, if anything at all. Yet advanced manufacturing or smart manufacturing concepts can now be found in more and more systems. In this regard, COPA-DATA is already well prepared.

This is true in the area of sustainability, where one often finds different requirements between large and medium-sized companies.

The twin transition: sustainability and digitalization

Today, digitalization projects are often linked to sustainability goals – or "the twin transition", to use another buzzword. Only a few medium-sized companies currently prepare environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reports that are backed with real-life data related to their energy consumption and supply chains.

Larger companies have more capacity for this, and are therefore better prepared should this type of reporting become mandatory in the future. Conventional monitoring applications must be able to record data to, bring transparency to energy consumption and correlate it with production output.

This is where automation software, like zenon, is vital.  The technology can operate as a monitoring and control system for data capture across a huge range of assets — enabling the platform to operate as an energy data management system (EMDS), as well as a springboard for future sustainability projects.

The data foundation of digitalization

What does the future of industrial automation look like? What course should companies today chart to be prepared for the challenges ahead? The first important step – and a basic requirement for digitalization in the coming years – is a solid data platform.  

If data is not properly recorded and contextualized, there is no need to think about Industry 4.0 or advanced manufacturing. It is also not necessary, in that case, to save all the data. This is where automation software like zenon can play an essential role. 

Learn more about zenon's role in digitalization here.