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Cyber Physical Systems in Industry 4.0

In the modern world everything wants to be networked. The smartphone with the car, the coffee machine with the alarm clock, the blinds with the sunrise, the smartwatch with the health app and best of all, the refrigerator with the digital shopping list. Why is that? To make life more comfortable, better and a little bit more efficient.

Everyday devices exchange information with each other, send data and information back and forth and thus control each other in real time – a kind of “automation” of everyday life is to be achieved in this way, which automatically adapts to external needs.

These processes are essentially called the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Devices are interconnected, exchange and control each other.


Internet of Things

… REFA (the German Association for Work Design, Business Organisation and Corporate Development) defines the term Internet of Things as

“the increasing networking of devices, sensors and other equipment using an IP network. The aim is to ensure that physical things that have their own status information provide their data for further processing in the network.”

This is exactly what Industry 4.0 wants to achieve – especially in the manufacturing and logistics industry, true wonders of efficiency and cost savings can be achieved with a properly implemented Internet of Things.

Industry 4.0 simply means that all units involved in a production environment are connected in a constant exchange via a network in real time. This includes production plants and logistic systems, but also the products to be manufactured (or their components) as well as people.

For this exchange three things are needed, first and foremost: data, data and again data. And this brings you back to the main topic of this chapter: Cyber Physical Systems (abbreviation: CPS) – are nothing less than the foundation of Industry 4.0. Because CPS deliver, you guessed it: data.


Data, information and knowledge – the world of CPS

Data is good, but actually useless – if it is not processed in a meaningful way. In a networked (industrial) world, data is the raw material, but the actual usable resource is actually the knowledge gained from the data. Since CPS is much about data, it is important that you understand the differences.

Data are simple signs, symbols and numbers generated by a system, for example a machine: “1992” – not much can be done with that yet.

Information arises when this data is assigned to a context. Knowledge about a possible situation arises in the process. For example, an industrial scale outputs one unit: “1.992 grams” – so you can do much more with the value. However, the information still has very little value, because you do not know where to put it.

Now you still need the facts or the product to which you can assign the information: “1.992 grams of adhesive are needed to join two electronic components. This way, you first know what is needed for what, and can make an informed decision or solve a problem.

For Industry 4.0 to work, the physical world (i.e. the production environment with all machines and products) must be connected to the digital world (network and software). This is exactly the task of CPS.

This is done by combining mechanical and electronic components with information and software components. These then communicate via a data infrastructure (e.g. Internet). Two basic tasks are processed in particular:

  • Generation and exchange of data
  • Monitoring and control of infrastructure


“Embedded Systems” and CPS

The attentive reader will have noticed it in the diagram above. Embedded Systems are mentioned in the same breath as CPS. What is going on there?

Embedded systems are the technological predecessor of CPS and comprise classic measurement and control technologies. Here, too, the digital (“cyber”) world is connected with the mechanical (“physical”) world – but each unit remains on its own. CPS are now a whole group of such devices, connected to a network and in constant exchange (“systems” – hence the name Cyber Physical Systems).

However, the essence of CPS is not that it takes on these tasks, but HOW FAST. Because in an Industry 4.0 production environment (also called “Smart Factory”) there is only one credo and that is: Full speed ahead. For a completely networked production environment to benefit from this network, the data must be read out in real time, processed into information and knowledge and then the production process must be adapted accordingly.

Static and mobile devices, equipment and machines (such as conveyor belts or robots) and thus networked objects are then controlled in real time. This can lead to an immense increase in production efficiency, reduce costs and optimise complex procedures and processes in their handling time.


Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) are the technological basis of Industry 4.0 or the Internet of Things. This is about:

  • the generation and evaluation of data in the production and further processing
  • and the management and control of the infrastructure in a production environment in real time.

For this purpose, the physical world (production facilities, logistics systems, machines etc.) is combined with the digital world (software) via a data network (Internet). This is done by connecting mechanical or electronic components with software or information technology components. These connections are CPS.


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