Smart products are an inherent part of the industrial digital transformation. The digital revolution has radically changed traditional manufacturing processes; from new digital model-based engineering to smart factories, everything is about virtual prototypes, digital manufacturing processes, and intelligent machines. The digital revolution in manufacturing is underpinned by the Industry 4.0 concept.
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is a concept widely adopted as a driver in the digital industry and is based on the “Industry 4.0” project developed by the German government. This project was announced at the Hanover International Fair in 2011 and according to Industry 4.0 theory, the digital industry is based on customizable products, developed in a flexible manufacturing environment. 
The value of smart products will not only lie in their physical capabilities but also in the enhanced customer and supply partners’ experience. From the earliest stages of engineering and design, every aspect is integrated with high-quality services in a new category of hybrid products.
The new manufacturing concept developed by the Industry 4.0 initiative incorporates machines, processes, software, sensors, processors, and communication technologies. All these systems have a computing component, as well as a physical interaction with the real world, thus providing a meaningful interface between the two.
What Technologies Drive the Digital Industry?
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) identified the following as major technologies governing the Industry 4.0 concept:
- Cloud Services – An alternative in the processing, storage, monitoring, and control of enterprise data and applications;
- Internet of Things (IoT) – Responsible for bringing together the entire ecosystem of communication between equipment, devices, and sensors, which capture and record primary information and generate analytics and answers in real time;
- Big Data & Analytics – A way of managing the flow of data generated by each development stage of production, from engineering to design, testing, and production;
- Engineering Simulation (CAE) – Virtual modelling scenarios of products from early workflow phases that are vital for achieving performance, decreasing the time to market, and efficiently reducing production costs;
- 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing (AM) – The enterprise capacity of 3D printers is set to play an increasing role in the production of small series personalized products;
- Augmented Reality (AR): Systems like Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens will play a key role in increasing productivity and accelerating decision-making processes.
From Industrial Internet of Things to Digital Industry
According to Accenture, “Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept and a paradigm that considers a pervasive presence in the environment of a variety of things/objects that through the Internet of Things: Converging Technologies for Smart Environments and Integrated Ecosystems” . The same source mentions that the core of Digital Industry is based on highly intelligent connected systems that create a fully digital value chain. This represents the 4th industrial revolution which is enabled by the Industrial Internet of Things.
Key trends will change the classic way of life for industrial companies:
- Digital – Transforming production processes in all sectors, from high-tech to industrial equipment
- Industrialize – Companies should integrate these technologies to improve their value chain
- Optimize – Innovative producers believe the enhanced manufacturing process as key for business growth
Smart Products for Digital Industry 4.0
Smart products integrated into modern production flows are able to self-process, store data, communicate and interact within the industrial ecosystem.
Starting from the earliest approaches which enable products to identify themselves via RFID, the products’ capabilities to provide information have since evolved.
Today smart products don’t only provide their identity, but also describe their status and lifecycle history. They are capable of computing algorithms and machine learning, which makes them adept at processing further steps, including the productions stages resulting in the finished product and also upcoming maintenance operations. 
This free infographic illustrates how engineering simulation can be used to optimize electronic designs. Download it for free.
Digital Models in Smart Manufacturing
A critical role in the modern manufacturing process has been the adoption of digital models in production workflows. Based on initial engineering plans, sketched by the product designer, drawn by the design team, and prototyped by the testing engineer, the unique digital model’s main advantage is that it can be modified any time in a fully digital manufacturing process. As the collaboration between these teams improves, the prototype will be assimilated quickly into production, and the finished product will be able to hit the market faster. This results in improved products, more rapid time to market, and reduced production costs.
The digital model concept was developed within the sendler/circle, which is an association of engineering and software professionals comprising a special interest group. They met in May 2014 in a Bavarian village and adopted four theses, known in the industry as “theses from Hechenberg“:
- The basis of innovative, “smart”, connected products are digital product models.
- The digital product model must contain all elements of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and software and may reflect their interaction virtually.
- Digital models make development, production, and operation of complex products manageable.
- The integrated management of digital product models throughout their entire lifecycle is an important prerequisite for Industry 4.0.
Engineering Simulation’s Role in Modern Production Processes
According to a Research & Markets report, the global engineering software market was 20 billion dollars in 2014, with an expected increase of 12.4% per year until 2022. The drivers of this development are the industrial process automation and an increased demand for integrated analysis and design solutions. Platforms for engineering applications have evolved along with the entire IT industry. This has had a dramatic impact on the industry, reducing costs, enhancing quality, and improving the launching speed of new products, all facilitated by the migration of design and simulation applications into the Cloud.
The next wave encompassed engineering platforms based 100% in cloud. The first cloud-based 3D simulation software was provided by SimScale and aimed to help engineers build better and smarter products in a shorter period of time. Leveraging a large variety of analyses offered on the SimScale platform, any manufacturer can create and optimize intelligent machines that combine mechanical functionality, digital control, and communication within industrial IoT ecosystems.
Due to the wide-scale applicability of modern simulation models, digital industry processes could be assimilated by various companies.
Industrial automation equipment and intelligent machine providers offer their smart products to clients from various industries such as oil & gas, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, energy and power, chemicals, and utility providers. SimScale is being used in a variety of product development processes across the whole industry ecosystem, from large products and process manufacturing to component supply chain providers. If you’d like to learn more about it, watch this webinar recording for free to see how SimScale’s CEO David Heiny tests the capabilities of the platform to solve an engineering problem.
This is how the whole smart product lifecycle is created.
- The new High-Tech Strategy Innovations for Germany, Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2014
- Accenture, Are you ready for Digital Industry 4.0?
- Schmidt R., Möhring M., Härting R.C., Reichstein C., Neumaier P., Jozinović P. Industry 4.0. Potentials for Creating Smart Products: Empirical Research Results, Springer, June 2015