Six Theories about Industry 4.0

Foto: everythingpossible/
Foto: everythingpossible/

Fifty percent of all experts are convinced: shop floor workers of the future will complete more and more of their production tasks with the help of tablets, smartphones, and related technology. According to the “Manufacturing Work of the Future – Industry 4.0” study by renowned German research institute Fraunhofer IAO, this additional interface will enable companies to “network and deploy their staff in completely new ways and implement new working techniques quickly and efficiently.” The 661 companies that took part in the study, however, were not so unanimous when it came to the issue of social media. Just over a third of those questioned expected the use of social media to increase significantly.

Business apps to take on tasks useful in manufacturing

Yet one thing is for sure: the use of so-called cyber-physical devices will completely change the world of work, not least because the proliferation of business apps for smartphones and tablets can take on very specific tasks and thus be very useful in the manufacturing process. But this networking between IT and machines is very complex, so employees need more than just traditional engineering expertise: they also need to have an affinity for the digital world. Data mining processes, targeted searches in unprecedented volumes of data, consolidation of various sensor data, and the handling of mobile devices that visualize workflows and procedures all require extensive technical know-how.

The question is: What kind of employees will be needed in this future environment? On the next page, we present a few ideas.

Next page: Digital natives, higher job satisfaction, more training

Theory 1: Digital natives will define the way of working. They won’t be able understand why a company doesn’t use smartphones to control its production processes. Thanks to their affinity for mobile devices, digital natives will find it easy to control other devices, too. This new generation is used to adapting quickly to new technologies and will eventually squeeze out older employees.

Theory 2: Industry 4.0 will make employees in a company happier and more satisfied with their jobs, because they will be able to work more independently than before. In the future, information will be available at the push of a button. Real-time technologies are essential if employees are to be an integral part of the company’s processes and stay up-to-date at all times. This will give the employees creative freedom that was not possible before.

More training and learning on the job

Theory 3: Industry 4.0 will lead to employees performing tasks at a higher level than that for which they were originally trained. This means that employees will need to have a different and better level of training than they do now. But the job market doesn’t and can’t provide this new generation of high potentials off the shelf, so it’s important for employees starting out at a company to be made aware that they’ll need to constantly learn on the job. Today, this topic is being discussed among highly-qualified engineers, tomorrow it will be topic for subject experts, and the day after that a topic for everyone else. Tasks will be more complex in the future, and everyone has to be trained accordingly.

Next page: Technical aids for support, working for longer, higher demand for specialists

Theory 4: Employees needn’t worry if their skills have become outdated. Technology is so adaptable and intelligent that it can help you precisely when you need it most. The Google Glass data glasses are a prime example. People turn to all sorts of technical aids for support, even people who don’t belong to Generation Y or Z.


Theory 5: Most people will have to work longer as a result of the age pyramid. Thanks to “physical and cognitive skills support” – a new generation of industrial cyber-physical systems – older people will be able to master increasingly complex tasks quite easily in the future.

Higher demand for specialists

Theory 6: Industry 4.0 will lead to increased demand for specialists in the short term. These specialists will have more room to make decisions, they’ll be more satisfied with their jobs, and they will make processes more efficient – regardless of the generation they belong to.

As different as these six theories are, there is one point on which all researchers agree: the artificial intelligence of cyber-physical devices will never exceed human intelligence. Assist it, yes – control it, no.