In the age of Industrie 4.0, factories consist of a number of smart units: machines coordinate manufacturing processes without any human interaction, service robots and people work side by side in the assembly shop, driverless transport vehicles run logistics tasks on their own. Industrie 4.0 defines the entire life cycle of a product: from concept to development, manufacturing, use and maintenance – and on to recycling.

In order to connect formerly passive production units – such as tools, machinery or transport vehicles – these are equipped with digital ‘eyes and ears’ (sensors) and ‘hands and feet’ (actuators) and are controlled from one central location via IT systems. Let’s take the example of transport containers: in a digital factory, transport containers use sensors to transmit information about their ID, their current location and fill level via a radio connection. This makes it possible to make efficient use of these containers in the production and logistics environment.

The reason why smart factories are a growing trend is that computers and sensors are becoming ever smaller, that they can be produced at ever lower prices and that we have broadband connections in place that allow us to share and analyse ever larger quantities of data and do so more quickly and efficiently than before.