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Digitalization – Developing Design and Implementation Theory

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

Guest Editor:
Professor Dr. Harry Boer
Aalborg University, Denmark

Associate Professor Atanu Chaudhuri, PhD
Post-doc Henrike E.E. Boer, PhD


In the last four centuries, enormous progress has been made, in product and process technologies, markets and competition, economic systems and societies, and coming in waves:

  1. The first industrial revolution took place from the 17th into the 19th century and witnessed the invention of the steam engine, which enabled the centralization of work in factories, and turned largely rural societies into today’s industrial societies.
  2. Spurred by advances in steel, petro-chemistry and electricity, the second industrial revolution started towards the end of the 19th century and revolved around the emergence of Fordist mass production and the “invention” of capitalism as the dominant economic system.
  3. The third industrial revolution, also called the digital revolution, was triggered by the invention of the computer in the 1940s and the further development of information and communication technology. Picking up speed in the mid 1960s, with minicomputers and DNC finding their way into industry, digitalization accelerated from the late 1970s onwards, when the first industrial robots, CNC machine tools, and FMSs started to spread in industry, and PCs – desktops and, later, laptops – became affordable for use in offices and at home. Communication technology and the invention of the internet protocol enabled the massive growth of the internet in the form of, amongst others, e-business.
  4. Today, we are at the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, which has been broadcast under various labels, such as Enterprise 2.0, the Factory of the Future, Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory – see below. Technologies and concepts enabling this latest stage of development include artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, additive technologies such as 3D printing, big data analytics, and the internet of things and services (IoT/S).

The term Enterprise 2.0, coined by McAfee (2006), refers to the use of social software platforms within firms, and between firms and their partners or customers, which enable knowledge workers to meet, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication. The development of the Factory of the Future, a concept launched by the European Union (e.g. EU, 2013), is supported by the Horizon 2020 program. Industry 4.0 got its name from a project initiated by the German government. Industry 4.0 takes the IoT/S into production processes and supply chains in the form of cyber-physical systems, allowing customization of products supported by highly flexible production processes and equipment, and creates significant benefits for the jobs and work organization of employees (Kagermann et al., 2013). First mentioned by Holter (1984), worked out a bit by Goldhar (1986) and Starr (1992), the Smart Factory (e.g. Zuehlke, 2010; Hessman, 2013; Alessi and Gummer, 2014) is actually the oldest of the concepts referred to here, and the cornerstone of Industry 4.0.

Key words characterizing Industry 4.0, with its smart factories and enterprises of the future, include (Spina et al., 1996; Cagliano and Spina, 2000; Kagermann et al., 2013; Zuehlke, 2010; Hessman, 2013; Alessi and Gummer, 2014; EU, 2015; Lampela et al., 2015; Richter et al., 2015):

  • Intelligent automation embedded in advanced control, sensor and actuator technology, capable of diagnosing, configuring and optimizing itself, and providing intelligent support for workers.
  • Cyber-physical systems: networks of smart entities, ranging from machine tools to entire production facilities capable of autonomously interacting with each other, triggered by internal and external changes and producing smart products.
  • Connectivity between and among workers, machine tools, the shop floor, the firm’s product development, planning, maintenance and quality functions, plants, and producers and their suppliers and customers, supported by communication standards such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication.
  • New forms of work and work organization: virtual and/or augmented reality tools supporting and allowing process and workplace simulations; the development of flexible workplaces with human-centered automation adaptable to the capabilities and needs of workers; safety and health at work; engagement of workers in the design and adaptation of their workplace; greater work variety, worker responsibility, autonomy and competence, professional development and learning; improved connectedness, knowledge capturing and sharing, and decision support; and, in effect, greater worker satisfaction. The factory worker of the future may be similar to McAfee’s (2006) knowledge worker.
  • Responsiveness, customization and servitization: meeting individual customer requirements, capturing product usage conditions, predicting failures, responding flexibly to supply disruptions and failures, allowing last minute production changes, providing end-to-end transparency through the IoT/S, and ever more services embedded in physical products.
  • New business models at firm and network level, enabling new ways of creating values.
  • Environmental sustainability: smart products, factories and supply chains contribute to environmental sustainability through reduced resource consumption and enhancing product life cycle management, eco-effective production, and the circular economy.

Call for Papers

So, digitalization opens up for promising opportunities but managing its implications for product, process, job, organization and supply network design and implementation is potentially immensely complex. State-of the-art studies have been reported by Deloitte (e.g. 2015), McKinsey, PwC (e.g. 2015) and many other consultancy firms. Published case examples of smart factories include Siemens’ Electronic Works facility, Amberg; BASF’s pilot plant at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Kaiserslautern; Robert Bosch GmbH, Homburg; Audi’s A4*/A5*/Q5 assembly facility, Ingolstadt). Programs are under way in Europe and different EU member states, in the USA and Japan, at universities worldwide, including laboratories at the universities of Aachen, Aalborg and Sheffield, and observatories at Politecnico di Milano.

What is lacking so far is the rigorous development of robust theory as we saw it during the first phase of digitalization in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management focuses on the management of manufacturing technology and the integration of the design, production, marketing and supply functions of firms ( Emphasis is placed on the publication of articles which seek to link theory with practical application or critically analyze real cases with the objective of identifying good practice in manufacturing. True to this focus, the topic of this special issue is the digitalization phenomenon, with a specific focus on the design and implementation of digitalized production systems. Papers are welcome, which have a strong theoretical and empirical basis and are aimed at developing (operations, supply chain or technology) management theory. Following the nature of digitalization as a phenomenon cross-disciplinary papers are welcomed, representing a variety of perspectives and different levels of aggregation. Conceptual papers may be considered, as long as they are supported by empirical data and aimed at theory development. Topics that could be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • Factory level digital operations strategy, involving technological choices on the deployment of additive manufacturing, smart/flexible manufacturing systems, robotics, augmented/ virtual reality and IoT/S devices for maintenance, quality control and training, and the impact of technology on operational performance measures like cost, quality, speed, dependability, flexibility and sustainability.
  • The socio-technical design of smart factories. Interplay between technology, job (e.g. collaborative robots) and work organization design, including health and safety issues. The labor market, societal and educational impact of digital technologies – is there a future for unskilled, semi-skilled or even skilled labor in Industry 4.0 Smart Factories of the Future, or will production work of the future require Enterprise 2.0 knowledge workers, educated and trained at higher vocational or even academic level?
  • The influence of contextual factors such as process type – e.g. high-volume car manufacturing versus low-volume airplane production, market characteristic – e.g. clockspeed, and firm size – what role can smart manufacturing play in small and medium-sized firm?
  • Industry 4.0 product development, including IoT/S products and services, servitization and digitally enhanced product-service systems.
  • The strategies followed by multinational companies to manage industry 4.0. How do they choose the relevant technologies, and develop, and learn and share new knowledge within, their production networks?
  • Production planning and control in the digital factory and supply chain: enablers for real-time planning and control of smart manufacturing systems, impact of real-time planning on mass customization, handling of product variety and complexity.
  • The evolution of digitalization. In what niches is digitalized already widely implemented? What are the drivers of and barriers to large-scale diffusion and implementation?
  • New, digitalization enabled forms of cooperation in the supply chain, using technologies for interoperability and data sharing. Managing the risks related to increased connectedness, including cyber security.
  • New business models at firm, supply chain and/or network level, including virtual and/or modular networks and “the sharing economy”, enabling new ways of creating value.

Manuscript submission and review process

In preparing of manuscripts, authors are expected to follow the JMTM author guidelines – see: All papers should be submitted in English. Non-native English speakers are urged to have their manuscript proofread prior to submission. The following link provides another possibility to ensure proper English: All submissions will be screened by the guest editors, and if they fit to the topic and have sufficient quality, they will be sent out to a team of reviewers to undergo the usual JMTM double-blind peer review process. All reviewers are experts in manufacturing technology and/or management.

The deadline of submission is 15 April 2019. The JMTM special issue is expected to be published in the summer of 2020.


Alessi, C. and Gummer, C. (2014). Germany bets on ‘smart factories’ to keep its manufacturing edge. The Wall Street Journal, October 26.

Cagliano, R. and Spina, G. (2000). Advanced manufacturing technologies and strategically flexible production. Journal of Operations Management, 18(2): 169-190.

Corso, M., Martini, A. and Pesoli, A. (2008). Enterprise 2.0: what models are emerging? The results from a 70 case-based research. International Journal of Knowledge and Learning, 4(6): 595-612.

Deloitte (2015). Industry 4.0. Challenges and Solutions for the Digital Transformation and Use of Exponential Technologies. Zürich: Deloitte.

EU (2013). Factories of the Future. Multi-Annual Roadmap for the Contractual PPP under Horizon 2020., retrieved on 5 November 2015.

EU (2015). Continuous Adaptation of Work Environments with Changing Levels of Automation in Evolving Production Systems. topics/2370-fof-04-2016.html, retrieved on 31 October 2015.

Goldhar, J.D. (1986). In the factory of the future, innovation is productivity. Research Management, 29(2): 26-33.

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Hessman, T. (2013). The dawn of the smart factory. Business Week, 14 February: 15-19.

Holter, M.R. (1984). Remote sensing: The next 50 years. IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, 20(4): 316-324,

Kagermann, H., Wahlster, W. and Helbig, J. (eds.) (2013). Securing the future of German manufacturing industry. Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative Industrie 4.0. Final report of the Industrie 4.0 Working Group. Frankfurt am Main: acatech e.V.

Lampela, H., Heilmann, P., Hurmelinna-Laukkanen, P., Lämsä, T., Hyrkäs, E. and Hannola, L. (2015), Identifying worker needs in implementing knowledge work tools in manufacturing. 17th ILERA World Congress, Cape Town, 7-11 September.

McAfee, A.P. (2006). Enterprise 2.0: The dawn of emergent collaboration. MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(3): 21-28.

PwC (2015). Industry 4.0: Building the digital enterprise., retrieved on 11 February 2018.

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Spina, G., Bartezzaghi, E., Bert, A., Cagliano, R., Draaijer, D.J. and Boer, H. (1996). Strategically flexible production: the multi-focused manufacturing paradigm. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 16(11): 20-41.

Starr, M.K. (1992). Accelerating innovation. Business Horizons, 35(4): 44-51.

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