Industry 4.0: the terms you need to know

Two workers looking at virtual reality

Recognized by the manufacturing sector as an emerging trend in at the end of the 21st century’s decade, Industry 4.0 has since been revolutionizing the way many businesses operate. Indeed, manufacturers that have started their Industry 4.0 journey are already feeling the benefits.

In McKinsey’s latest Industry 4.0 survey, 94% of respondents said the technologies and improvements they’d made had helped their business function during the Covid-19 crisis, with 56% saying it has been a critical element to their survival.

Yet the same survey found only 26% of businesses had managed to scale Industry 4.0 successfully. This means the full impact of Industry 4.0 changes are still to be felt, including by injection molding manufacturers. So, what are the key terms to be aware of and what does the future of manufacturing under Industry 4.0 look like?

How is Industry 4.0 changing injection molding?

Just like any other part of the sector, injection molding manufacturers are working hard to take advantage of Industry 4.0 and its technologies.

Some of the benefits injection molders can gain from Industry 4.0 include:

  • Improving product quality: injection molding is a highly complex process that requires tight controls to produce quality products. With technologies that provide better sensors and monitoring, operators and manufacturers can enjoy greater control in every molding cycle.
  • Making production more efficient: injection molders who integrate smart, connected machinery into their production line can gain plenty of benefits. These include remote monitoring, enabling production lines to run safely and autonomously for 24 hours, and predictive maintenance which fixes problems before they cause significant amounts of downtime.
  • Data-driven decision making: with data being collected at each stage of the production process, it can then be stored in the cloud for operators to access and analyze at any time. Advanced systems may also be able to make decisions independently in real-time, meaning the injection molding process will always be optimized.
  • Greater product capability: with improved plastics innovation and prototyping capabilities, manufacturers can develop a range of injection molded components to better meet customer needs, including increased sustainability.

What Industry 4.0 terms do you need to know?

One of the changes Industry 4.0 is bringing about are the terms manufacturers are using. Here are some of the key phrases:

Additive manufacturing (AM)

Additive manufacturing is the process of using a computer aided design (CAD) model or a 3D object scanner to create an object. Sometimes used as an industrial production term to describe 3D printing, additive manufacturing is, in fact, a process that can be used to create more complex, robust products and have a designated end use, unlike rapid prototyping. 3D printing is created layer by layer, whereas in additive manufacturing, an item is built in a number of ways which could include layering.

For injection molders, this means several different products can be created and tested in their final function without expensive injection molds needing to be created for each design.

Advanced manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing refers to the integration of innovations and technologies for the purpose of increasing the efficiency, output quality and flexibility of production lines. Unlike traditional manufacturing, which uses standard processes and technologies to create predictable and dedicated production lines, advanced manufacturing focuses on adding value to the entire supply chain. By focusing on efficiency and integrating relevant technologies from the first step of the manufacturing process, businesses are able to make their operations more intelligent, effective and adaptable.

Plastic caps being injection molded

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence is when machines are built to simulate human-like intelligence or traits. One example of this is where a machine perceives its environment, judges it and takes action based on its findings displaying problem-solving capabilities similar to that of humans.

Artificially intelligent machinery can benefit the injection molding process in many ways, including automatically adapting the controls of the machine to suit the mold that’s being used, or using motion sensors and machine vision to spot, predict and fix product defects.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality technologies assist humans by overlaying a computer-generated image onto their view of the real world in real-time via a headset. This is different to virtual reality, which puts the user in a completely computer-generated world.

Within injection molding, this technology can be used for prototyping, machine maintenance or material handling.

Augmented Reality

Cloud robotics

Cloud robotics are where robots are connected directly to a data cloud. By connecting to the cloud, robots can use information from any data, perform updates or store their own data easily. For injection molders and their customers, cloud robotics will not only mean greater efficiency and productivity but may give greater visibility over the digital supply chain too.


A cobot, or collaborative robot, is a robot that can physically interact and work effectively alongside humans in a shared workspace. This is different to autonomous robots or robotic arms which act completely independently or require input from an operator. Cobots can also learn new tasks from human operators rather than having to be reprogrammed.

Injection molding cobots can help manufacturers to operate more efficiently and safely. Whether it’s handling materials, performing quality checks or packing up products, they can boost manufacturers’ productivity in a range of ways.

Cyber-Physical Production Systems (CPPSs)

Cyber-Physical Production Systems are where physical and digital items are connected together via computer programming and algorithms. This means digital systems can monitor and control physical processes and the physical processes can send feedback and data back to clouds or networks.

Utilizing CPPSs and their benefits is one of the aims of an Industry 4.0 production line, including for injection molders.


Cybersecurity is the controls and systems that are in place to protect a businesses’ data. Whether it’s information about their suppliers, customers or products; manufacturers, who often keep their files stored locally, are one of business types most at risk of cyber attacks.

Having complete visibility and understanding of the data that’s being used and stored within a business is the first step to ensuring tighter cybersecurity. From there, they can work out who they need to share or protect the information from and identify any areas of vulnerability they need to address.

Digital Transformation Strategy

A digital transformation strategy is a plan that sets out how your business will integrate smart technologies and systems into your organization to help it grow, become more efficient and resilient.

Steps to building your digital transformation strategy may include:

  • Identifying areas for improvement: running an audit of the business to see what areas could benefit from implementing new technologies.
  • Getting complete employee buy-in: your employees will drive the changes within your business, so they need to understand them and their role in making it happen.
  • Finding a supportive network: other businesses that have been through similar changes or challenges will give essential support. Making them part of your network will mean you can call on them to ask questions or talk about their experience.
  • Upgrading your IT system: making sure all your IT systems and technologies are up to date will give you the best possible starting point for your Industry 4.0 journey.
  • Trialing new technologies: rather than fully integrating new technologies straight away. Test them out first to see if they’re the best option for you to ensure they enhance rather than hold back your operations.
  • Focusing on continuous development: Industry 4.0 isn’t just a single set of changes. It’s an ongoing process of setting and fulfilling goals that will improve your business, so ensuring these objectives are part of your plan is key.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software helps manufacturers to better manage their business. By bringing data from across different departments together it can help teams make better decisions and improve their processes. This includes improving cash flow, purchase orders and payroll.

Fog computing

Fog computing is an infrastructure where ‘edge’ devices are used to carry out a businesses’ key IT functions, such as data storage or communication. This decentralization of computing has lots of benefits, including greater flexibility and reducing the amount of data transferred to the cloud for processing and analysis, improving security. Fog computing can also make IT processes more efficient and help companies fall under strict data storage compliance rules.

Human-Machine-Interface (HMI)

Human-Machine-Interface (HMI) is an interface or dashboard where interactions between humans and machines take place.

Within industry, this can improve the safety and efficiency of operations. For example, injection molders can benefit from this technology by:

  • Using wearables or a tablet on the shop floor to monitor multiple processes at the same time.
  • Being able to see the control parameters of each process in one place.
  • Getting immediate alerts to any problems or predictive maintenance warnings for machinery.

Industry 4.0 or Fourth Industrial Revolution

Each Industrial Revolution has marked a significant change in manufacturers’ technological capabilities. Since the beginning of industry in the late 18th century, there have been four defined industrial revolutions:

  • Industry 1.0: this was the first step production lines took away from using purely human power towards increased mechanization. With many machines powered by steam and water, technologies developed to increase efficiency, particularly in the production of iron, coal and textiles. This led to significant economic advantages, developments in machinery and manufacturing techniques as well as increased demand for skilled workers.
  • Industry 2.0: increased demand for amenities like water, gas and communication led to the widespread development of technological systems. The increased use of petrol and the beginning of electrification meant assembly lines turned into automatic factories, leading to a rapid growth in industry and the development of synthetic materials, including the first plastics.
  • Industry 3.0: the introduction of computers into industry marked the beginning of the third industrial revolution. Also known as the digital revolution, widespread automation and the invention of the internet brough new advantages to telecommunications, production and increased globalization.
  • Industry 4.0: this industrial revolution, which is the period we’re currently in, takes the technologies of the third and advances them to build production lines with increased automation, artificial intelligence and big data. These technologies are connected and communicate with one another to make smarter production decisions automatically and without human intervention.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is about interconnected systems that allow ‘things’, such as machines, to talk to each other. The main benefit of this is that data can be captured and communicated more consistently and accurately than by humans. This data can give companies greater visibility into their business.

For instance, sensors installed on an injection molding machine can help a manufacturer to determine the perfect conditions for component manufacturing with each type of thermoplastic. IIOT is not only used in manufacturing, but in construction, utilities, transportation or any industry that relies on devices of some kind.

IOT Internet of Things

Lights out manufacturing

Lights out manufacturing refers to fully automated factories that can run with the ‘lights out’ and require no human presence on-site. A fully automatic factory is one where raw materials enter and finished products leave with little or no human intervention. This is an objective for some injection molding manufacturers that look to run 24-hour production lines.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication

Machine-to-machine communication is when a network of devices can exchange information and perform actions without the manual intervention of humans. This is the technology that underpins the Internet of Things and can help injection molders to optimize or fully automate their production lines.

Predictive Maintenance

Manufacturing Execution System (MES)

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are software programs that track the performance of an entire production process. From finding raw materials to creating the products to end-of-life processes, MES collects data at each stage which decision makers can then analyze to optimize their plant’s production performance. Able to scale alongside the business, MES can help businesses maintain a productive and profitable manufacturing process through data-based continuous improvement.

Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is where a sensors or data can predict and alert maintenance or operating teams about potential issues that could cause machine downtime if they’re not addressed. This helps operators and owners to have complete visibility over the productivity and maintenance needs of machines within a smart factory.

It also means that data can be sent back to machine manufacturers once their products are installed in the customer’s factories. By better understanding how a product is used and being able to detect and fix defects through remote maintenance manufacturers can improve their machine designs and help their customers, like injection molders, avoid disruptive downtime.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics combine data systems, algorithms and modelling techniques to predict outcomes and performance. In manufacturing businesses, this can be used to track trends in customer orders, plan in production and machinery maintenance and even identify operational or revenue opportunities. As more data is collected and the processing systems become more advanced, some manufacturers may also be able to use predictive analytics to identify and mitigate future risks. This holds huge productivity and profitability potential for a range of manufacturers, including injection molders.

Device demonstrating predictive maintenance

RAMI 4.0

Reference Architectural Model Industry 4.0 (RAMI 4.0) is a 3D model and strategic structure designed to help any manufacturer or business approach Industry 4.0 in an effective and holistic way. By aligning the essential aspects of Industry 4.0 alongside a priorities hierarchy, life cycle and value stream, this model offers a step-by-step process for identifying areas of opportunity and development within their business. It also helps all the participants of Industry 4.0 operate from the same starting point and follow a common strategic architecture.

Smart Factory

Smart factories are production lines that are driven by advanced technologies and innovations. Designed to be flexible, adaptable and fully efficient, they are fully digitized and often integrate connected devices, robotics, machinery and big data systems together. This means factory operators and owners can have fully visibility on operation performance and make continuous improvements to their efficiency and productivity.

Smart manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is any production process where internet-connected technologies are used to enhance or optimize its performance. A smart factory may use advanced technologies like sensors, automation and cobots. It will also take data from physical processes and store it in the cloud ready to be analyzed and interpreted by manufacturers.

Implementing smart technologies into a factory gives manufacturers greater insight into the efficiency of their operations and can be used to improve the quality of their products, reduce their energy usage or increase production efficiency. Advanced smart manufacturing systems can also act intelligently and make real-time data-based decisions all along the supply chain, including from customer feedback or data.

Supply chain

As in previous industrial revolutions, the supply chain covers each stage of the manufacturing process, from sourcing raw materials to making the products to their end use with customers. However, a supply chain under Industry 4.0 is one that’s completely digitized, significantly more transparent and has lots of potential for optimization.

To be completely digitized, all processes within the supply chain need to become web-based. This will create greater connectivity which allows for wider sharing of manufacturing processes, production control and scheduling.

Indeed, the ultimate goal of a supply chain under Industry 4.0 is to be able to share information freely and securely across the whole network, from materials suppliers to end-use customers. With data being collected at each stage of the chain, being able to share information such as delivery estimates and product availability in real-time without threatening any businesses’ cybersecurity is one of the main challenges of ‘supply chain 4.0’.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)

A SCADA system is a network of computers, data systems and user interfaces that allows operators to monitor and control machines and processes. Another key part of Industry 4.0 architecture, SCADA systems allow operators to gather and process real-time data, record events or interact with devices.

This alongside, other technologies, holds potential for greater productivity and efficiency for a range of manufacturers, including injection molders.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is when a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or scene can be interacted by a person using a headset and wireless controls. Injection molding manufacturers can use this technology for the rapid visualization, prototyping and simulation of their products.

Virtual Reality

How Essentra Components is getting ready for Industry 4.0

Over the past few years, Essentra Components has been working on a long-term Industry 4.0 strategy with the aim of making a truly hassle-free customer service. As well as upgrading the injection molding production line, it has invested in new systems and processes to enable better communication across the business, become more efficient and benefit customers. Find out more about how its approach is benefiting the organization and its customers in this Industry 4.0 article.