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The term “Industry 4.0” is ubiquitous within the automation and industrial manufacturing industries. But, what does it mean, and how is it applied?

Germany’s Education and Research minister coined the term back in 2006, i.e., before the iPhone. However, it wasn’t until 2011, when the idea was more formally presented, that the term gained traction as a buzzword. The 4.0 signifies the idea of the fourth wave of industrial revolution: the first wave was steam power and mechanization; the second was mass production and electrical powered equipment; the third was computers and automation; and the fourth is cyber-physical systems.

There are four principles to Industry 4.0:

1.     Inter-operability – Man and machine connecting and communicating together

2.     Information Transparency – Virtualization/simulation of the real world using information

3.     Technical Assistance – Automating tasks through meaningful data collection

4.     Decentralized Decisions – Decision making, relevant to the work, at the system level with the ability to delegate any outside decisions to a higher level of control

Inter-operability is portrayed through collaborative robots, augmented reality, safety scanners, or just-in-time manufacturing. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are at the forefront of this principle. Robot and human interaction helps bridge the gap between full automation and the tasks that rely on the dexterity and flexibility of a human operator. Cobots are sometimes seen as the sole technology in Industry 4.0, when in reality, they only provide a small advantage compared to the rest of the technology driving the fourth industrial revolution.

Information Transparency is most commonly viewed as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and MES systems. SCADA systems have been around for years, long before Industry 4.0 was labelled as such. Through the Internet of Things and new protocols like IO Link, SCADA systems have an important role to play in Industry 4.0, due to the amount of data that is collected by the system and smart sensors.

Smart sensors output a lot of data, most of which would be meaningless when looked at discretely, but over time the data can be used in many ways. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) calculations and Statistical Process Control (SPC) are typical uses for this data, but predictive maintenance and just-in-time production are keys ways this data is used in Industry 4.0. By collecting raw data from a servo, a predictive maintenance algorithm can anticipate when the servo might fail, even before it does. This reduces unplanned downtime and can even reduce spare parts inventory, since a servo can be ordered when the data specifies that it will fail soon.

Technical Assistance automates repetitive or unsafe tasks, such as report generation or heavy material handling. Rather than a person writing down data by hand, or using Excel to create a report, the SCADA system can be used to print quality assurance reports after each part has been run through a QA station. Also, collaborative robots can be used to transfer a part deemed too heavy for a person or even hold tools while a person moves the robot to where the tools are required.

Decentralized Decisions puts the processing on the machine. By allowing a machine to make decisions in its immediate environment, autonomy can be used to help reduce cycle time. For example, an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) programmed with decentralized decisions can make its own decisions on how to avoid an obstacle. Making the AGV smart helps avoid downtime due to people impeding its path, since rather than stopping and waiting, the AGV continues to move in a safe manner.

There are a lot of new technologies, but through research, partnerships with suppliers and tech companies, and collaboration with our customers, JR Automation has been creating equipment in the Industry 4.0 spectrum for years. We have the capability to integrate SCADA and MES systems with our custom equipment or preexisting machines. Our standard practice is to provide equipment that notifies our customer of machine efficiency and, if an issue occurs, where the problem is occurring. JR Automation’s Software Integration Team can also provide solutions for equipment that allows our customer to program new part types offline or automatically introduce new sequences based on an uploaded CAD file, creating adaptable and flexible equipment. While the industry in general is still exploring the number of use cases associated with this level of connectivity and data collection, JR is committed to investing in Industry 4.0 technologies and best practices. 

Here’s a glimpse at available technology and how it fits into the principles of Industry 4.0:



Information Transparency

Technical Assistance

Decentralized Decisions

Big Data




















3D Inspection





Predictive Maintenance





Offline Programming






 "Industrie 4.0: Mit dem Internet der Dinge auf dem Weg zur 4. industriellen Revolution". (in German). 2011-04-01.

Hermann, Pentek, Otto, 2016: Design Principles for Industrie 4.0 Scenarios, accessed on 4 May 2016

JR Automation partners with the world's leading manufacturers to design, build, and integrate custom automation solutions. Headquartered in Holland, Michigan (USA), we have more than 1,200,000 sq. ft. (111,000 sq. m.) of office and production space around the world and more than 2,000 dedicated team members. We've handled even the most technically challenging large-scale projects, and you'll find our solutions operating 24/7 on 5 continents.


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