The widespread adoption by manufacturing industry and traditional production operations of information and communications technology (ICT) is increasingly blurring the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world in what are known as cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs). In this article, we try to give a short introduction on CPPSs, a major contributor for Industry 4.0.

CPPSs are online networks of social machines that are organised in a similar way to social networks. Simply put, they link IT with mechanical and electronic components that then communicate with each other via a network. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, which has been in use since 1999, was a very early form of this technology.

Smart machines continually share information about current stock levels, problems or faults, and changes in orders or demand levels. Processes and deadlines are coordinated with the aim of boosting efficiency and optimising throughput times, capacity utilisation and quality in development, production, marketing and purchasing.

CPPSs not only network machines with each other, they also create a smart network of machines, properties, ICT systems, smart products and individuals across the entire value chain and the full product life cycle. Sensors and control elements enable machines to be linked to plants, fleets, networks and human beings.

Of central importance for industry 4.0 is its interface with other smart infrastructures, such as those for smart mobility, the smart grid, smart logistics and smart homes and buildings.

Links to both business and social networks – the business web and the social web – also play an increasingly important role in the digital transformation to industry 4.0. All these new networks and interfaces offered by industry 4.0 within an ’internet of things, services, data and people’ mean that manufacturing is set to undergo enormous changes in future.

This trend is still in its infancy in some manufacturing companies and industrial sectors, but in others, the transformation to industry 4.0 is already well under way.Traditional industrial economies, such as Germany and the US, expect this fourth industrial revolution to bring many advantages, ranging from enhanced global competitiveness to a reversal of the trend to relocate production to low-wage countries and the opening of more domestic production locations in Europe and North America.