Beyond “Industry 4.0”. B2B factory networks as an alternative path towards the digital transformation of manufacturing and work
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This article uses theoretical and empirical evidence of variations in digitalized manufacturing to revisit Piore and Sabel’s 1984 work on flexible specialization and to criticize the inherent one-sidedness of the Industry 4.0 discourse. This is juxtaposed with empirical findings on platform-mediated business-to-business factory networks, in which flexibility is facilitated by the digital interconnection of a far-flung network of small-scale manufacturers rather than by sophisticated production technology. The effects on work are equivocal; they entail the potential for a craft-like and skill-intensive paradigm of small-scale manufacturing that can upgrade work, but also for a race to the bottom in price-sensitive industries.