Peter Theissen knows all about packaging systems: as Head Global Engineering for SIG, he looks after machine networking and the digitisation of work sequences. He joins us for a look at the ‘factory of the future’ and answers the question, “Just what is Industry 4.0?”

Peter Theisen SIG

Peter Theissen SIG Head Global Engineering

One of the most exciting subjects around at the moment is ‘Industry 4.0’. But what actually is it? What will businesses get out of intelligent machines? Where do consumers come into contact with Industry 4.0 – and possibly even benefit from it? Will it be possible to create and fill beverages with the same degree of customisation as you can, for example, with cereals at

The birth of Industry 4.0 …

… was in April 2011, when this term was first revealed to the public at the Hannover Messe, the world’s most important industrial fair. A few years before that, Prof. Michael ten Hompel, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), created the expression “Internet of Things” and thus laid the methodical foundation for “Industry 4.0”.

Unlike many other industrial trends, Industriy 4.0 did not swiftly disappear again like a fad, but became a ‘mega-trend’ and took hold. The German government established the term ‘Industrie 4.0’ as part of its future-oriented project to digitally network and automate all main business sectors. Digitisation does not stop at national borders, however, but is generating huge potential for Industry 4.0 at a global level.

Networking between objects and data

“The result is an Internet of Services, opening up opportunities that are hardly imaginable even today.”

In the ‘Smart Factory’ – a vision of an intelligent factory developed in the context of Industry 4.0 – networking between information technologies and industrial automation will lead to maximum transparency and flexibility: processes and products can be constantly monitored and controlled and, in principle, batches as small as a single unit can be manufactured under industrial mass-production conditions – essentially one-offs on the conveyor belt.

This kind of individual product configuration is already possible with cereals, for example, at This on-line muesli factory allows consumers to select a base muesli mix in the first step, and then customise it with fruit, nuts, grains and other extras. There is no reason to assume that it will stop with muesli – why not also adapt dairy products via the Internet to suit your individual taste?

Production and distribution processes will also change as the material object world and the virtual IT world merge together. Products and machines are transforming into intelligent combinations of software, mechanics and electronics capable of acting autonomously and organising and optimising themselves. Some might say there’s nothing new there – and they wouldn’t be totally wrong. Even before the days of Industry 4.0, cars were being built to individual customer specifications and products were traceable. But technological progress – computing and computer memory capabilities that were previously unimaginable, Internet connections all the time and everywhere, and cloud computing – makes it all so much faster, more comprehensive, more individual and usable for many more people. This leads to a constant supply of new value-added services, such as monitoring the progress of consignments via the Internet, or links serving as proof of origin for packaged foodstuffs. The result is an Internet of Services, opening up opportunities that are hardly imaginable even today.

Smart packaging machines are independent, flexible and self-monitoring

“Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things could make intelligent machines available permanently and without interruption.”

The industry consists of many different sectors, all with their own different production processes. That means that the implementation of Industry 4.0 will take many different forms.

Machines will become more and more intelligent and efficient thanks to smart sensor, actuator and communications technology. In future, smart packaging machines will be increasingly capable of producing tiny series runs, down to one-off items, on the conveyor belt. State-of-the-art printing processes, for example, could make it possible to produce carton packs with individual printed designs, and do so at high speed. The necessary text and image files would be supplied in real time. This would open up totally new perspectives for seasonal or event-related activities such as customer competitions.

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things could make intelligent machines available permanently and without interruption – because the machines themselves would identify and report when they need to be serviced or have parts replaced. For service providers, this would mean that maintenance work could be planned with absolute precision. As a result, the Smart Factory would be able to replace reactive maintenance – in other words, unscheduled repairs that are usually needed at inconvenient times – with predictive maintenance, making the risk of a failure identifiable and thus manageable.

The digitisation and networking that Industry 4.0 implies, or in some cases makes possible in the first place, affects all areas of business – not just suppliers, manufacturers and traders, but also consumers, since they are important drivers in this process.

Packaging in communication with consumers

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things will also lead to smart packaging! Research institutes are already working on packaging with integrated sensors that record temperature, atmospheric humidity or pressure, for example, and thus monitor the condition of the contents. This process essentially constitutes “digital finishing” for the packaging material. Wouldn’t it be exciting if packages were able to network independently with, for example, containers, forklifts, warehouse shelves, smart refrigerators, Smartphones or other wareables? At some point, medications would no longer require a packaging insert in some cases, but instead would be capable of notifying the patients when they had to take their treatment, and tell them the dose. Best-before dates could also be on the way out in the foreseeable future, if packaging is able to recognise and communicate the fact that its contents no longer have the properties that were expected at the time of purchase.

Development looks set to continue, with new opportunities for implementation and business models everywhere. Further refinements in the world of IT ensure a future that is “packed” full of exciting possibilities.

Want to know more about Industry 4.0 regarding beverage and food packaging? Give us a call, comment or e-mail us.

Posted by Peter Theissen

One Comment

  1. Alexander Wiertz August 25, 2016 at 7:26 am

    thanks for your trust, please feel welcome to suggest other topics, SIGnals could talk about.
    Alex from SIGnals


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