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Hilmar Dunker (Photo: Claus Dick)

Industry 4.0 is the new buzzword and rightly so. The term attempts to capture the comprehensive change that is sweeping the global industrial landscape. It's therefore no exaggeration to use "4.0" to define the fourth industrial revolution that is upon us.

But dig a little deeper and get ready to be surprised. Industry 4.0 may be the subject of newspaper headlines and expert commentary, but many industrial companies are remarkably non-committal on the subject. Even big automakers aren't quite ready to discuss the subject, it seems.

That's surprising because the auto industry, with its complex supply chain and its high degree of product customizaton, should be jumping at the opportunity to make its manufacturing processes more flexible and more efficient.

According to a recent survey in Germany, one third of managers polled weren't fully clear what Industry 4.0 is all about and which risks and opportunities are inherent in the new trend. So a rapid education is in order and the emphasis should be on speed. After all, Germany as an industrial location has a lot to lose.

Polls and discussions with industrial managers show that many companies are afraid to make mistakes when implementing new manufacturing strategies. Many don't seem to know where to start.

Be that as it may, but we need Industry 4.0 and the new connected manufacturing technologies that hold out the promise of more efficient production.

Automotive supplier Robert Bosch has invested heavily in technologies that connect everything, also referred to as the internet of things. Hence, it was no surprise when Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner recently summarized what's at stake this way: "With Industry 4.0," he said, "we can also be competitive in high-cost Germany."

-By Hilmar Dunker, editor in chief, automotiveIT, Germany