Industry 4.0 – Calling for Standards


Industry 4.0 is gaining even more momentum. It was a dominant theme at Nepcon South China – there it’s called ‘Made in China 2025’ – and no doubt it will be a key topic at SMTAI in a couple of weeks’ time. In fact, I’ll be there conducting a number of round-table discussions at the Scoop Booth 545, one of which is entitled exactly the same as this article!

Over the years I’ve keenly observed developments for Industry 4.0 in all its naming guises depending on which geography one is in. I have always been an advocate for a multi-cultural approach to terminology for the Industry 4.0 concept and its processes and solutions. I believe it offers a unique opportunity of varied interpretation without the danger of being blind-sighted by a single term. I am still convinced that as a result of such variation, the core concept can evolve more creatively and organically without boundaries.

That’s the conceptual level though. At the tactical level the implementation of the Smart Factory, or Industry 4.0, or Internet of Manufacturing, or indeed ‘Made in China 2025’ indisputably needs standards. But standards aren’t as easy to agree as they look!

Having standard protocols within an industry provides clarity and value to those who use them. The industry has been crying out for a machine-to-machine communications standard for some time. In February this year, an EDA (Electronic Design Automation) company released just such a protocol called OML (Open Manufacturing Language), which it agreed to share with the industry free of charge. Shortly after the official release, the IPC standards committee met on this topic during the APEX show in Las Vegas where it was formerly agreed (by means of a number of votes) that while everyone wanted an open standard, that standard could not be owned by anyone apart from the IPC. In a meeting that had probably the committee’s highest turnout ever, everyone agreed to dedicate resources to getting a standard out as a soon as possible.

The motivation to provide the industry with an open standard quickly is a laudable one and the quicker a standard is released the better. At SMT Hybrid & Packaging show in Nuremberg, Germany, I caught up with Co-Chair of the IPC Data Connect Factory Subcommittee and Aegis Software CEO, Jason Spera to find out what progress had been made since those initial meetings at APEX. He told me, “back in Las Vegas all parties agreed that a replacement for the current IPC-2541, Generic Requirements for Electronics Manufacturing Shop-Floor Equipment Communication Messages (CAMX) was needed and demanded by the industry and the entire committee understood the need to work quickly on this. I was delighted with the desire and agreement of those major software and hardware companies present to commit resources to getting this done properly and swiftly”.

Initially the subcommittee identified several licensing and intellectual property issues which needed to be resolved before a new standard could progress. The subcommittee also determined that the IP could not be controlled by any entity other than IPC, nor could it be a revenue generator for any company contributing to the standard.

Standards aren’t as easy as they might seem and a great many interests need to be accommodated! The first step, Jason explained, was the establishment of a Charter. That’s complete and it is shaped by two missions at its core that are being addressed. The first mission was to form a consensus on what Industry 4.0 actually means to the industry, so to provide a clear definition that covers the interests of the entire industry. I suspect the overall name of the concept has been and will be debated in all its forms and dialects and that in itself no doubt is a colorful and culturally intriguing process to participate in and observe.

The second mission was to develop that as yet elusive open industry standard specification for actual shop floor & manufacturing operations data communications that covers the entire infrastructure of the manufacturing process. OML may well have provided a big step in the direction of that standard and will no doubt be assessed for its application and relevance for all involved.

I’ll hopefully have the chance to catch up with Jason or the IPC in Chicago at SMTA to find out what further progress has been made since my interview with him back in Germany which can be viewed at

Clearly standards are required and the key word in this whole process is ‘open’! Only open protocols, languages and systems, along with collaboration will yield the best results for everyone.


By Kim Sauer, Scoop