A young man stands in front of a screen in a factory building. In the background you can see an orange robot arm lifting blue barrels. © VDI ZRE


In the context of the fourth industrial revolution, data, information and processes of industrial production are increasingly shifting into the digital space. The use of intelligent sensor technology in production processes enables the collection of digital data and information that can be processed with corresponding IT systems. Networking within and outside the company enables the digital data and information, as well as the resulting knowledge, to be exchanged between the participants in the value creation process. Digitisation thus opens up a wide range of opportunities to uncover and exploit efficiency potential along the entire product lifecycle.

Digitisation and Industry 4.0

Digitisation as an Enabler for Resource Efficiency

The photo shows orange robot arms reaching for a blue plastic barrel. The barrel is being cast from straight. An extruder can be seen at the top of the picture. At the moment the picture is taken, a blue plastic tube is being pressed out of the extruder and used in molding. © VDI ZREIn order to remain competitive as a company in an environment with increasingly rapid product innovation cycles and growing diversity of variants, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) must also address the challenges and opportunities of digitisation. In the manufacturing sector in particular, digitisation of production is being driven forward at an increasingly rapid pace on the way to Industry 4.0. Opportunities for cost savings through digitisation¬ arise across the entire product lifecycle: from raw material extraction through manufacturing, logistics, distribution and use to recycling of the goods produced. In this context, product development plays a prominent role due to its influence on innovations and processes throughout the entire product life cycle.

But in addition to the business benefits, digitisation also offers enormous potential for increasing resource efficiency.

Stages of Digitisation on the Way to Industry 4.0

The evaluation of past events in production processes and the collection of current process data represents the traditional reactive business intelligence (BI) currently used in many companies. However, to fully implement Industrie 4.0, data must be analysed and correlated in real time. This way, it becomes possible to clearly identify causes in order to subsequently eliminate them.

If artificial intelligence (AI) is also used, future problems can even be predictively avoided. A study is currently being conducted on behalf of the VDI Center for Resource Efficiency on the further potential for the use of AI in the manufacturing sector - especially in terms of resource efficiency.

The digitisation of processes is a precondition for Industry 4.0. In the following, two types of classification into individual digitisation levels are presented to illustrate the path toward Industry 4.0.

Artificial Intelligence

In general, a distinction is made between "weak" and "strong" artificial intelligence ("artificial narrow intelligence" vs. "artificial general intelligence"). A "strong" AI is characterised, among other things, by the fact that it is superior to humans in almost all aspects or at least has comparable cognitive abilities. "Weak" AI can also be equally superior to humans, but almost exclusively in predefined and explicitly programmed as well as trained areas. Application examples of "weak" AI include IBM's publicly acknowledged AI breakthroughs in the quiz show Jeopardy and DeepMind, in chess or Go.

These systems are clearly superior to humans in their respective domains, but have no properties beyond that.* VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz GmbH (2021): Potenziale der schwachen künstlichen Intelligenz für die betriebliche Ressourceneffizienz. Ed. v. VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz GmbH. Berlin. Last reviewed on 10/12/2021

Publications on the topic "Digitisation"


Resource Efficiency through Industry 4.0 – Potential for SMEs in the Manufacturing Sector

The digital transformation in industrial production offers considerable potential for increasing material and energy efficiency in companies. At the same time, the digitisation technologies used also require resources themselves: materials, including critical raw material, are used in the production of ICT components. Furthermore, the digital transformation can lead to higher energy consumption. The study "Resource efficiency through industry 4.0 - Potentials for SMEs in the manufacturing sector" focuses on this conflict between opportunities and challenges.

  • Studies
Das Bild zeigt eine Mindmap, in deren Mitte 4.0 zu lesen ist. An den Enden der Arme sind verschiedene Icons zu sehen, die für industrielle Produktion stehen.© VDI ZRE


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