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How Industry 4.0 and lean production are becoming best friends

industry 4.0 and lean production Source: Bosch

In one of my previous posts, I looked at lean production and Industry 4.0 – two approaches that have been friends at Bosch for quite a while now.

Since then, the concept for combining these two in a perfect symbiosis has been further developed and implemented. These friends are now best friends. How did that happen?

Lean production and Industry 4.0: A special friendship

At Bosch, our recipe for sustainable success is to build on the tried and true and combine it with innovation. Lean production represents the tried and true and Industry 4.0 looks toward the future and therefore innovation.

What does that mean, exactly? Let me explain by using the hands-on training, “BPS & I4.0” (BPS: Bosch Production System), that I took part in this February. The training was about how to improve production systems. As a participant, I was able to actually see the results of improvement measures (instead of just reading them off a slide!). We improved a fully connected production and intralogistics process (enabled by RFID) in three successive simulation runs.

How was the connected production set up? The existing process for the production of ballpoint pens was completely revamped to include RFID tags on the workpiece carriers. To capture production data in near real time, each work station is equipped with an antenna. There are a total of four workstations: pre-assembly of the lower and upper parts, final assembly, testing/QS, and packaging. There is also an antenna in the warehouse where the milk run starts and ends. Data used to calculate the KPIs can be directly visualized in an overview after each of the three simulation runs.

My key takeaways: Why lean production and Industry 4.0 are a good match

1. First of all, real-time value stream mapping should be the basis and focus of all improvement measures, whether with lean production or I4.0 methods. I4.0 can support real‑time data analysis, and value stream mapping is part of lean production. When combined, they serve as an excellent foundation for improvements:

Photograph of value stream mapping on a white board. Source: Bosch

2. Next is to analyze the data along your value streams. Production managers have their eyes on the flow of materials: “the material must flow.” But for customer satisfaction, in the end, just one KPI counts: delivery time to the customer. Did you manage to deliver on time or not? Or maybe even earlier? I4.0 can help you monitor this KPI and continuously improve upon it.

3. Implementing a digital twin of the physical devices provides the basis for analyzing your production data with I4.0. Take this data and process, visualize, and interpret it. Make the experts available where they are needed: at the machine, on the move with an iPad or smart watch, or on the dashboard at the control center.

4. I4.0 solutions are great, but make sure you deploy them in your production process where it makes sense to do so and where they will be of the greatest benefit. Using I4.0 solutions to improve production steps that are not optimized or are being phased out is not effective.
The practical example used in the training showed it was essential to shift demand management towards the customer in order to be able to react more quickly to their needs. An I4.0 solution would not have had the necessary acceleration at this point to meet the delivery time (delivery reliability).

5. I4.0 solutions must always fulfill two requirements:

Infographic showing the eight principles the Bosch Production System is based on. Source: Bosch.IO
The Bosch Production System is based on eight principles.

6. Supplement I4.0 solutions selectively and depending on your needs. For example, assistant systems are extremely well suited for supporting employees in high-variance production (industry sector) to ensure optimum quality. By contrast, high-volume production (automotive) requires a completely different approach, such as identifying cause and effect relationships via data analytics in the event of problems.

What’s most important for combining I4.0 & lean production?

Delivering by when the customer has requested is the most relevant KPI. Therefore, monitoring the KPIs of the real-time value stream for delivery time should be a main focus. In our simulated production, these were the cycle time of process steps as well as the inventory of assemblies and finished goods. What is helpful and will greatly support you in accomplishing this main task? There’s no question: it’s user-friendly visualization and real-time data processing/delivery.

What’s in it for you?

All the above are my key takeaways from participating in the BPS & I4.0 training. If you are a production expert, I urge you to go and build on this unique expertise. Learn how to best combine the different approaches of lean production and I4.0 as well as existing solutions – to meet delivery times and continuously improve your production. Get to know our best friends personally!

More on Industry 4.0

How to get started with an Industry 4.0 project? We show you a five-step guide approach.

Industry 4.0 is gaining momentum in Asia-Pacific. Thomas Jakob takes a closer look.

Taking a look at the facts: Where does Industry 4.0 stand?


  • 31. March 2018 at 6:37

    Logistics companies are now moving to technological advancement. The challenge that Industry 4.0 needs to resolve is how to provide people with the flexibility in their choice of products by keeping persistent to automotive.

  • 28. September 2017 at 6:01

    Hi Stefanie,
    Great sharing of your findings!
    What do you think?
    1. Will I4.0 implementation create another round of culture change that LEAN has successfully done? e.g. Production team board meeting could turn electronic with I4.0?
    2. Is BOSCH treat LEAN as manufacturing principle and I4.0 as tool or enabler for LEAN to be successful? will it be possible to be other way round?


    • 2. October 2017 at 15:56

      Hi Eric,
      I´ll do my best to answer your questions. Very good ones, by the way!
      1. If you consider the digital version of an existing format as culture change: the answer is YES. In my opinion, I4.0 will bring cultural changes along its way, but in different ways. Skills, for example – in order to stay in control of what the software does for you.
      2. I4.0 needs to be the enabler for lean (which is still leading). The “tools” aspect is subordinate in my eyes.
      Hope that clarifies for the start – and please, let me know if you wish to intensify one or the other fact, Eric.
      Regards, Stefanie

    • 5. October 2017 at 5:48

      Hi Stefanie,
      1. You pointed out the critical point, skill thanks!
      2. I agreed
      I am good for now, and to be frank am still researching and observing industrial adoption and their approaches…

    • 2. October 2017 at 16:18

      Hi Eric,

      thanks for your comment and interesting questions! Let me add my point of view to Stefanie’s answers.
      1. Yes, there is a change happening in the culture of team board meetings – already today! Not necessarily meaning that the meetings turn fully electronic right away (with solutions like the Active Cockpit) but by making use of quicker and easier data analysis. The analysis results can still be “old fashioned” printed out and discussed in the team meetings, the effort to create the relevant KPI graphs and figures can be significantly reduced due to higher data availability and integration. This is possible in many production lines already today without additional HW invest!
      The way to a fully elctronic team board meeting is more an evolution than a revolution. The change to the “digital factory” is a process and does not happen within days. But, the change has started and smart data analytics methods assist you in benefiting from your already available data right away!

      2. From my perspective lean is the basis for I4.0!
      Well-understood, controlled and standardized processes are an essential base for I4.0 initiatives.
      Therefore I see lean as enabler for I4.0 – not the other way round.

      What is your opinion on that?
      Best regards,

    • 5. October 2017 at 5:54

      Hi Denis,
      1. Well explained, thanks!
      2. I am (at the moment) inclined as, I4.0 is an enabler for LEAN to be successful. However, your valuable perspective on LEAN is the basis (and hence an enabler in this sense) is well put. Again, like I responded to Stefanie, am still researching and observing industries adoption trend and my perspective maybe proven wrong…:)
      thanks for your respond, appreciate that!

  • 16. July 2017 at 16:43

    I have the feeling that I4.0 will distract people even more from the Gemba as well as establishing a Kaizen culture.

    Another issue is that the use of IT usually comes with a great loss in flexibility.

    • 17. July 2017 at 6:46

      Dear Mark-André,
      At Bosch, we have a guiding Bosch Production System foundation to ensure stable and mature processes in production. The guiding line for all activities to improve processes in the plants and production networks is: “first process maturity – then Industry 4.0”.
      There is no endeavour to replace established measures as Gemba – instead, I4.0 solutions certainly need to complement them.
      BPS also ensures that manufacturing experts stay in the driver seat. Software needs to deliver transparent results (instead of taking flexibility and responsibility).
      And I see, that your feeling is different. Which are your experiences for instance?
      Regards, Stefanie

  • 16. July 2017 at 6:07

    I am a keen follower in the space too. I agree & would like to see how real time analytics will complement lean as you explained in point 1.

    • 17. July 2017 at 6:54

      Dear Jerin,
      Thank you for your comment. Referring to your question, for example in resistance spot welding, machine learning algorithms are used to analyse process data in real-time and define the optimum time for maintenance. Not only for reasons of less downtime, but also since the degree of wear on the caps play a key role in the quality of spot welds.
      Do you have any experience from your practice to share with the community as well?
      Regards, Stefanie