Process Industry 4.0: There is still so much untapped growth potential

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Great strides are being made when it comes to digitalization in the process industry. Small and medium-sized plant operators, however, remain hesitant. Not even the digitalization push in the wake of the Corona pandemic has altered this attitude.

The opportunities presented by digitalization, especially for the process industry, are enormous – something that studies and surveys have repeatedly shown. Plants that are digitalized can be controlled more efficiently and effectively, because greater transparency is created with the help of data-supported methods and technologies, and better decisions can be made as a result. This is particularly true when plants are networked using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The vast majority of industrial companies in Germany have long since begun taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalization in the context of Industry 4.0. According to a survey by the digital association Bitkom, almost two-thirds of companies are already using digital applications such as networked production facilities, real-time communication between machines or intelligent robots. Three years ago, only about half of them were doing so. Roughly 20 percent of companies are currently planning specific steps toward the implementation of Industry 4.0, and another 16 percent can at least imagine taking such steps in the future.


Corona crisis leads to digitalization push


As is the case in other sectors, the Corona crisis has accelerated the digitalization trend in the industrial sector: According to the Bitkom study, 95 percent of companies surveyed say that digitalization has also become more important in their business as a result of the pandemic. More than 60 percent of industrial companies say that digital technologies are helping them manage the consequences of the pandemic. And three-quarters have found that companies whose business model is already digitalized are weathering the crisis better.

“The reasons for this response behavior are not surprising,” says Gerald Pilotto, Global Development Senior Vice President at Bilfinger. “After all, during the pandemic, there were often situations where access to operating facilities and production sites was limited. Many companies therefore started to make their facilities more crisis-proof – using digital solutions for remote monitoring, for example. This made it possible to control equipment and facilities from any location and at any time.” In addition to gaining greater insight into machines and processes, plant operators achieve a reduction in unplanned downtime – in particular through remote monitoring and remote controlling. This was determined by industry studies, including the “Digitalization Index for SMEs 2020/2021” commissioned by Deutsche Telekom.

Digital technologies not only increase productivity, they also generate new data-driven business models."

Gerald PilottoGlobal Development Senior Vice President Bilfinger SE

Staying competitive

Despite this progress, many small and medium-sized companies are still hesitant when it comes to digitalization. Excel lists are still used in many places for data exchange, for example, and paper forms are filled out for inspection and maintenance tasks. “The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude is dangerous if the system works but soon becomes uncompetitive,” says Pilotto. “Moreover, digital technologies not only increase productivity, they also generate new data-driven business models. For this reason alone, even small and medium-sized operators of industrial plants should be taking a long, hard look at future-oriented digital applications.”

Industry experts agree that overcoming future challenges can only be achieved through a shift toward Process Industry 4.0. “The first step is to merge plant data with production data and thereby arrive at even better decisions in the control and maintenance of plants and components. Our experience across the board has been that this significantly increases the performance, availability and efficiency of the plants. The next step is to further expand the level of ‘collaboration’ between man and machine. In the not too distant future, plants, machines and components in the process industry will also independently exchange information online and thus continuously optimize themselves,” says Pilotto.


Download Issue 04.2021

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Contact in case of questions:

Gerald Pilotto
Global Development  
Senior Vice President
Bilfinger SE 
Tel. +43 732272404-644

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