In industry, the term Industry 4.0 is currently the symbol for the further development of industrial production. The vision describes a way of production in which everything is networked in the best possible way. Networking then enables self-controlling and self-optimising production (see also “What is Industry 4.0”). But what is the historical course that led to Industry 4.0?


The designation of the various types of industrial production is of course not an active determination of the past, but a simplified categorization made in retrospect. The different stages are not clearly defined, but nevertheless each of them represents a kind of revolution in industry, which is reflected in the further developments and in the effects on society.

Industry 1.0 – Power from water and steam

The first industrial revolution began at the end of the 18th century. This is generally referred to as “industrialization”. In this period, the first machines were operated by the power of steam and water instead of human labour, e.g. mechanical looms. New jobs were created in factories. Socially, this had far-reaching effects, as the world of work changed dramatically. Workers were drawn from agriculture and handicrafts into the factory halls, where they could expect higher wages but had to live with much worse working conditions. In the countryside, on the other hand, the negative consequences were felt, with farms having to close due to a lack of labour. Because of these strong upheavals, the period is called the first industrial revolution.

Industry 2.0 – Assembly line and electricity

Electricity, motors and the invention of assembly line work provided the next major step in development. Electricity and motors made it possible to drive the machines independently of water and steam, making them much more flexible. The invention of the assembly line in car production by Henry Ford then provided a significant increase in production efficiency at the beginning of the 20th century. Series production enabled products to be manufactured in even shorter time and in even larger quantities. It was the beginning of mass production. Much broader sections of the population were now able to buy products from the factories because they could be produced more cheaply.

Industry 3.0 – Computer

The transition to the next industrial revolution was made possible by the development of computers. Since electronic components were ready for use in industrial environments in the 1970s, automation has been driven forward in production with electronics, IT and programmable logic controllers (PLC). Machine processes and controls could be controlled highly efficiently and human intervention was reduced to a minimum. This is a revolutionary development compared to series production, where machines could only work with little autonomy.
The development of electronics progressed rapidly, so that control systems became more and more powerful and smaller. More and more devices could be equipped with their own intelligence. As a result, more and more data was available that could be recorded from automation. In Industry 3.0, however, evaluations on this data can only ever be carried out subsequently and the findings can only be returned to the automation system slowly.

Industry 4.0 – Digitalization

The fourth industrial revolution is now evolving, with intelligent automation devices and all other systems involved in production being networked in the best possible way. Networking creates revolutionary possibilities for coordinating the systems with one another. Each system can access the information it needs for optimum operation at any time and can also provide its own data. This creates the possibility of self-optimization and self-control for production and thus the intelligent factory. The networking is not limited to certain areas and also includes the produced goods themselves. Data from the product’s life cycle flows back into development and can have a direct influence on current production. Machines can share their status with other production systems, which in turn can react to it.
In Industry 4.0, the customer is also integrated in the best possible way, so that customer requirements are optimally incorporated into production, up to production with lot size 1 (see Goals for Industry 4.0).
The change to Industry 4.0 creates efficiency, flexibility and many opportunities for further development and thus competitive advantages and improvements in working conditions and environmental compatibility. As with the other industrial revolutions, the changeover is not sudden, but steady and unstoppable.

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