The history of industry 4.0. Engineering concepts for the factory in the second half of the 20th Century
In recent years, the factory of the future is has again become the center of scientific and public discussions about efficient, competitive and socially responsible production. The catchword here is “Industry 4.0”. However, the idea behind this concept does not seem to be new from a historical perspective. Since the late 1970s, the future of factory production has been widely discussed, taking into account newly emerging technologies for information, communication and automation.
A look at these new concepts of factory, which have been developed in university and non-university research in Germany, shows an amazing persistence. Therefore, the project asks the question whether Industry 4.0 is a new approach or rather a continuation of the older idea of a “factory of the future”.
In contrast to previous research, the visions, concepts and concrete research projects by the engineering sciences – and more specifically those undertaken in manufacturing and production research – are the focus of this project. By analyzing these research projects, models, designs and concepts, the study will make a contribution to the history of automation and digitization of the industrial world of work. Concepts such as Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM), which envision a factory of the future as computer-integrated or resp. supported by computers and as a holistic system based on information technology, are central to the project. Despite the failure of CIM’s implementation in the 1990s, essential conceptual ideas persisted and have recently emerged again in the concept of Industry 4.0. Parallels can be seen in the widely held regard for holistic production, the promise of economic advantage, the hesitancy in implementation as well as the various technical and public discussions surrounding these conceptual ideas. The different discourses also addressed and analyzed visions and fears that stemmed from the computerization of work in general, and addressed the question how the future of work will look like, and whether the replacement of man by machine is going to inevitably lead to factories devoid of humans. The project analyzes these social debates as well as the role and significance of engineering research in public discourse.
The developments and improvements of technologies and concepts as well as the mediations and reactions to different designs of the “factory of the future” will be described and explained using the concept of the “knowledge path”. The concept of path dependence has already proven productive in the history of technology and is intended to help explain the formation, shaping, and especially the stability of a research direction. In general, the path concept aims at analyzing and explaining the continuity and consistency of a directional path once it has been settled on. Despite dead ends, detours, and adjustments in the practical application, automation and digitization appear to have become the leitmotifs for the factory of the future and for today’s idea of Industry 4.0.