Futuribles Journal n° 424

Économie, emploi - Entreprises, travail

Industry 4.0, An Industrial and Societal Revolution

In March 2017 (no. 417), Futuribles launched a series on the prospects for productivity and economic growth, in connection with the debate on risks of “secular stagnation”. In the first issue of 2018 (no. 422), the series was completed by an article by Gilbert Cette and Ombeline Jullien de Pommerol on the spread of information and communication technologies in the main developed countries in recent decades, and their impact on the economy. In this issue, we concern ourselves with the concrete consequences of the technological revolution currently under way in the industrial sector by way of the German “Industry 4.0” programme/concept.

Launched in 2011, Industry 4.0 initially aimed to bring together all the relevant actors around preserving German industry’s leadership in capital equipment. Dorothée Kohler and Jean-Daniel Weisz, who have studied this programme extensively and worked on the ground alongside the actors mobilized around this aim, describe the context in which it emerged, its goals, and the means deployed in pursuance of the strategy. They highlight the concrete impacts of this 4.0 revolution in the industrial sector (particularly on production methods and modes of work organization) and on business models (development of the value-chain, redistribution of economic power, breaking with the traditional management model etc.).

In a context characterized by great uncertainty and growing complexity, it is a time for adaptability and flexibility. This implies networked working (among the actors, but also between company structures), an ability to self-organize, and close cooperation between the different actors in the value-chain, between people and machines etc. The transition to Industry 4.0 will doubtless come about tentatively, by trial and error, but as this article shows, it involves quite a radical rethinking of existing models and, most importantly, an openness to collective action and collaboration, by means of which the technological revolution can become an opportunity in employment terms and not necessarily a threat.

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