The digital type plate in the era of Industry 4.0
A type plate contains essential information about a product, such as the manufacturer, product name and type, serial number and year of manufacture. It also contains many approval-related details, such as the CE mark or labels, e.g. in accordance with ATEX guidelines, the Machinery Directive or the Pressure Equipment Directive. If a manufacturer wants to market a product globally, the product may require so many marks that they no longer fit on the type plate of a small product. In the explosion protection sector, in particular, the type plate must contain lots of details, such as the device category, gas-ex or dust-ex information, type of protection, ambient temperature range, temperature class, gas group, etc. Within the context of digitalisation, providing the type plate information in compressed form using a digital data medium (e.g. QR code, RFID chip) is therefore an obvious solution. For future-oriented developments such as Industry 4.0, the digital type plate has become essential technology.
This concept can be implemented in two ways:
- All type plate information is digitalised and stored on a digital data medium directly on the product. This ensures that the data is permanently and securely attached to the product; it can be converted to readable text using a standard reader (e.g. a smartphone) without an internet connection. This meets the essential legal requirements for labelling. However, it can only be read using a reader – this is still to be clarified with legislators.
- All type plate information is stored on an internet server, which can be accessed using an internet address (URL). Only the URL is stored on the digital data medium on the product and can be read using a smartphone and linked using an internet connection, e.g. on an administration shell . Here, all type plate information about a product, as well as all associated product information and product documentation, can be called up and downloaded. Legislators would have to agree to the use of this process as an alternative to the conventional type plate.
In 2018, the ZVEI adopted a recommendation for electronic labels , which the DKE, a German standardisation institute, has adopted and used to launch a German standardisation project. In 2019, a draft of the DIN VDE V 0170-100 pre-standard  was published; the final standard is intended to be published in 2021. This standardisation project has standardised the digital type plate in accordance with point a.) above. The main areas of application are products for the automation and process industries; however, this method of labelling products can also be used in other industrial sectors.
Minimum requirements maintained for digital type plates
The minimum requirements, such as the manufacturer and product name, are still present in plain text on the conventional type plate. Conformity marks, such as the CE mark, will also remain visible. All other data and marks will be stored in the digital code (see Figure 1). A QR code measuring 4x4 cm can therefore store approximately 1000 characters in an easily readable format. An RFID chip in the lower price bracket can store up to 2 kB of data.
DIN VDE V 0170-100 optionally stipulates that the first line of the digital code can contain a URL leading to an internet server, on which all product information as stated in point b.) above is stored. If no internet connection is available, the required information can be read out of the digital code. As a result, this standard covers both approaches to the digital type plate as set out in points a.) and b.) above.
In 2018, at almost the same time, DIN developed a German consortium standard for digital product identification that essentially corresponds to the digital type plate described in point b.) above. This standard was published as DIN SPEC 91406 at the end of 2019 . A QR code or RFID chip is intended to be used as the data medium; this can be seen in the form of a small triangle in the bottom-right corner (see Figure 2). The data medium contains a globally unique product identification in the form of a URL and can link to a real internet address (e.g. using the administration shell).
Digital type plates offer a range of advantages
The increasing number of the globally required product labels can be displayed in a much more compact form using a digital data medium. Additionally, products can be identified easily from the point of goods receipt to the place of use, thanks to a unique identifier. Communication between the operator and manufacturer is simplified. All product information and documentation can be accessed directly via the internet and administration shell, making long search times and assignment a thing of the past. Spare parts management is made easier, while maintenance and repair work becomes much faster. In the future, there will be no need for comprehensive paper documentation. This saves time and helps to protect our woodland. Since there will be no need to transport lengthy paper documentation, transport costs and CO2 emissions will fall, which will benefit the environment.
The concept of the digital type plate must be globally standardised before it can be used around the world. As a result, two standardisation projects were launched at the IEC in mid-2020; both projects aim to establish both concept a.) and b.) above as international standards. Both standardisation applications were accepted internationally by the IEC at the end of 2020 and the standardisation work is expected to begin in early 2021. The earliest a final IEC standard can be expected is 2022. Legislators must also be convinced of the benefits of the digital type plate. As a result, the ZVEI has published recommendation 2020.1 regarding the digital type plate  and further activities directed at the EU Commission are in the works.
 (Only available in German) Struktur der Verwaltungsschale, Fortentwicklung des Referenzmodells für die
Industrie 4.0 Komponente, ZVEI, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, 2016.
 (Only available in German) ZVEI Empfehlung Elektronische Kennzeichnung, ZVEI, April 2018.
 DIN VDE V 0170-100 Digital name plate, Part 100: Digital product marking,
VDE Verlag, version 2019.
 DIN SPEC 91406:2019-12 Automatic identification of physical objects and information
on physical objects in IT systems, particularly IoT systems, Beuth Verlag, 2019.
 ZVEI Recommendation 2020.01: The "Digital Nameplate", ZVEI, October 2020.
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