Fourth industrial revolution: German-Chinese alliance may hurt Japan

Germany's push toward what it dubs the fourth industrial revolution is bringing the manufacturing powerhouse closer to China. This could create a formidable challenge for Japanese manufacturers.

Digital economy was this year's theme at CeBIT, the biggest information technology trade show in Europe. The event, which was held earlier this month in the German city of Hannover, drew the world's attention to "Industrie 4.0," a major German industry-government-academia collaboration to trigger a fourth wave of industrial production.

The proposal for this new industrial revolution was published two years ago. Technologies and projects looking to trigger the changes were showcased at this year's CeBIT.

The first industrial revolution was brought on by the invention of the steam engine in the 18th century. Electricity opened the door to mass production in the early 20th century. The third industrial revolution was automation in the 1980s, made possible by advances in computer technology.

Industrie 4.0 envisions changes being realised through the use of sensor and telecommunications technologies. It will, if it becomes reality, automate the entire manufacturing process, from handling orders to production management. The ultimate goal is the creation of global plants that consist of production facilities spread around the world connected via the Internet, to take productivity to a higher level.

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