On Interoperability, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things

Created by: Francesco Lelli

 We would like to summarize the efforts of academics and practitioners toward describing devices in order to enable dynamic reconfiguration by machines or humans. We also propose a set of concepts for describing devices, and we analyze how present initiatives are covering these aspect. 

We hope that this approach will foster a critical discussion around these topics for enabling an “intelligent interoperability” among sensor and actuators that will constitute a dynamic Industry 4.0 production line.

About the author: 

Francesco Lelli is professor of Business Process Integration at the faculty of Economics of Tilburg University. His research interests include Internet of Things and Cloud computing and has authored several publication in this area. 

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We are presenting a set of  concepts for describing devices that will participate in dynamic production lines represents a core feature for Industry 4.0 and a challenge for IoT academics and practitioners. In this section, we intend to describe a set of items that serve as an initial step for finalizing an ontology or an unstructured description that clarifies what a device is from the Industry 4.0 point of view.
One of the goals is to model the fact that multiple sets of devices can be merged to create a set of production processes. Consequently, the key concepts should be able to define a producer (i.e., a production line) and, among others, its production processes. Consequently, our representation should be able to represent (i) sensors, (ii) actuators, (iii) their relationships with the environment, and (iv) how production processes are using them.
We can refer to this set of use cases as concrete examples of what we would like to formalize:
  • Predictive maintenance refers to a set of use cases that are relevant to Industry 4.0 and are often mentioned as one of the more common use cases for IoT devices. Predictive maintenance envisions the use of sensors to measure the status of machines and tools that will be used to notify appropriate personnel when preventative maintenances should be performed for preventing future downtimes.
  • A more general case would be the use of automated optimization of machine performance based on sensor data and actuator responses to tweak physical settings.
  • We should also be able to use actuators for changing the configuration of the machines remotely and/or automatically, following the guidelines of a general production planning.
We can generalize these use cases as a set of connected sensors and actuators. These devices should automatically compose themselves, leveraging the description of their capability in order to support and optimize the production line.

Concepts for Describing Devices in Industry 4.0

In the context of Industry 4.0, the features of a device can be conceptually divided into five different categories, as reported by the following subsections. These categories should be able to give a different view of the device itself and altogether should provide a uniform description of the devices in a production line.


This category should cover the functionality of a device. Concepts are focused on the functionality that the device provides and should answer to the following questions:
  • What attribute does the device’s sensor measure?
  • What actions does the device’s actuator take?
  • What is the functionality of the device?


This set of attributes should describe the environment in which the device operates, giving an answer to the following questions.
  • Where is the device’s geographical and relative location?
  • What object is it attached to?
  • What process is it involved in?
  • At what time were the functions performed?


This is a set of concepts related to procedures for explaining which rules govern the devices behavior. Examples includes:
  • At which time intervals does the device normally function?
  • Under which conditions does the device function?
  • What rules does the device follow?




This involves the information on how the device can be operated by human operators or other devices or systems. Relevant information should answer the following questions:
  • To which service is the device exposed?
  • What role does the device have, and what privileges does it give?
  • How can the device be configured?
  • How can the device be controlled?


This refers to the internal information of the device itself and its role in the system that we need to operate. Examples of relevant information should be able to answer the following questions:
  • What system is the device a part of?
  • What is the devices’ hierarchy with regards to devices and systems?
  • Which sensors does the device have?
  • Which actuators does the device have?
  • How much energy does it consume?
  • What are the available resources?
  • What is the device’s health?



Concepts and Their Relative Importance for Industry 4.0 Devices

Within the five foreseen categories, we can also envision different degrees of importance. In particular, we would like to consider the following three levels:
  • Core: This refers to the attributes that are needed for ensuring a basic functionality of the device in the context of Industry 4.0
  • Desired: This refers to information that will enhance the functionalities of the device and its flexibility; nevertheless, they are not needed to ensure a basic functionality
  • Optional: This refers to information that has similar characteristics to the desired. However, this is of secondary importance

For more information and a full discussion please consider the following post about Internet of Things and Industry 4.0   or visiting the this rerference[1]


  1. Francesco Lelli; Interoperability of the Time of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. Future Internet 2019, 11, 2, https://doi.org/10.3390/fi11020036.

Cite this article

Francesco, Lelli. On Interoperability, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, Encyclopedia, 2019, v1, Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/183