Industry 4.0 stands for the vision of a comprehensive digital integration of the production chain, from the supplier to the consumer. A transformation, that would surely have business, inter-business and social implications. A pilot project intended to demonstrate the value of foresight and technology assessment for parliamentary work explores possible strategies.
Coined in Germany in 2011, the term Industry 4.0 is now widely used and a core topic of current industry and innovation policies. At an international level, there are a number of related concepts such as the “Industrial Internet”, “digital manufacturing” or “smart factories”. They all refer to technology paths and innovation strategies based on a new level of comprehensive digital networking of the industrial value chains. The technical basis for this model is the “Internet of things and services” or what are known as cyber-physical systems. The underlying vision: Intelligent machines and products exchange information with each other in real time and control themselves autonomously; physical and digital systems merge to become a continuous and flexible network.
The implementation of Industry 4.0 promises above all an increase in productivity and competitiveness. It thus appears to be the key to the kind of re-industrialisation which the EU is aiming for. As yet, however, there are many open questions. These include the still outstanding standardisation of interfaces for the smooth exchange of information between different systems, enterprises and trade sectors; the solution to safety and security risks; and an analysis of the consequences on the work place and for the labour market. As different qualifications will be required to run and maintain these systems, the consequences for training and further training curriculums have to be explored as well.
The pilot project will examine possible options, explore different possibilities for a practical implementation and help assess its main effects. Given that we are still at an early stage, the aim is to make effective use of all options available in order to achieve the best possible development for all concerned. Another objective is to trigger a discourse between the different groups: business managerial staff, individuals from the field of technology development, politics, administration and employers’ associations as well as unions. This dialogue shall help determine different expectations, requirements and innovation strategies. The results of these discussions will inform policy options, in particular those of the Austrian Parliament, for implementing a long-term and socially compatible model of Industry 4.0.
The project combines scientific analysis with dialogue formats. In a workshop with parliamentarians, the technical basis, the objectives and the expected benefits of Industry 4.0 will be sketched out, and light cast on the opportunities and risks. In a second workshop with members of the advisory board, parliamentarians and various stakeholders, a future-focused dialogue is to be held on controversies and options for political action in order to develop a number of scenarios. Possible measures are intended to support desirable work structures, competitive enterprises and sustainable development. In a third and final workshop all policy options will be discussed and the results published in a final report.