A wide range of technological innovations including the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), machine learning (ML), analytics, virtualization, and robotics have fuelled the rise of smart, automated industries in the past few years. With the increase of IoT sensors, rollout of 5G, and deployment of edge cloud in factories, there will be an enormous amount of data available that can be collected and analyzed to optimize existing processes as well as improve quality, efficiency, and most importantly, turnover.
However, many of the technologies were stuck in pilot stages or were struggling to grow in potential, until the Covid-19 pandemic pushed manufacturers and factories to harness their true power. Industry 4.0 solutions allowed multiple organizations to ensure business continuity, improve quality, delivery times, and employee safety as well as reduce wastage.
Companies that had scaled up on Industry 4.0 before the pandemic found themselves better positioned to respond to the crisis while others had to re-evaluate the progress of their digital transformation. The pandemic, however, created an environment that spurred the adoption of more ROI-based strategies for Industry 4.0 technologies such as, AI-based IoT platforms, digital twins, advanced robotics, and visual analytics.
According to Allied Market Research, the global digital manufacturing market is expected to reach US$1,370.3 billion by 2030, from US$276.5 billion in 2020, registering a CAGR of 16.5%. Another report, by Manufacturing Leadership Council, indicates 58% of manufacturers in a survey either already have extensive digital plant floor networks or will have it within two years.
Companies have realized that the ‘smart’ and connected production systems that are designed to sense, predict, and interact with the real world will not just increase productivity, energy efficiency, and sustainability but also avoid sudden shutdowns of manufacturing facilities or disruptions in raw material supply. Recognizing the advantages, industries are turning more digital to create new and innovative business models while remaining competitive. They are re-orienting the way factories, production, warehouses, and logistics function.
There are numerous digital solutions redefining Industry 4.0, but two of the most prominent trends are the rollout of 5G and the adoption of digital twins.
The 5G push
The introduction of 5G connectivity will be key to the future of Industry 4.0. 5G enables very high speeds of data transmission, negligible latency, improved connectivity, capacity, and bandwidth, plus enhanced safety and security, which will pave the way for a myriad of new innovations and digital solutions that weren’t possible before.
In a market reliant on data-intensive machine applications, 5G will enhance the effective use of automated guided vehicles (AGV), AI-enabled robots, visual analytics through computer vision and many other smart factory solutions. India has already embarked on its transformation journey through 5G. A leading Indian telecom player has shared its plans to transform the country utilising various 5G solutions across different sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, life sciences, and more. From intelligent farming with precision spraying drones, remote diagnostics in healthcare, and AI-enabled smart manufacturing to ultra-HD streaming and zero latency gaming in homes, 5G will transform the world we currently live in.
Digital twins and 3D simulation technologies, which were earlier used for dangerous work scenarios like deep sea oil rig testing, are now coming into the factory setting. A digital twin is a virtual model that accurately reflects a physical object in real time and allows us to run various simulations and test scenarios, helping us determine the best possible set-up with the highest efficiency and returns. Companies are, therefore, creating digital twins of their factories to determine the most optimized and efficient way to run processes and generate the highest returns. There is, in fact, a scramble among service providers that specialize in either business process platforms or very specific product development or product testing platforms, to provide the best customized solutions. Some sectors like mining and minerals, power, and oil & gas are embracing digital twins and simulations rapidly. Others like healthcare, manufacturing, food & beverage, and life sciences have also joined the hype train.
The sudden increase in adoption of digital twins across sectors is also due to the fact that the cost of development today is far lower than what it was a few years ago. As we see adoption of digital twins rise across industries and sectors globally while also being the principle concept behind the Metaverse (virtual world), we can safely say that this is a technology that will not only remain relevant but also evolve for quite some time. It might be wise for organizations to evaluate the digital twins technology in its early days.
Eye on the future: Industry 5.0
Industry 4.0 offers many solutions but also poses challenges. While adopting the underlying technologies for speed and scalability, companies must weigh the trade-offs. Quick fixes, temporary workarounds, and retrofitting can accelerate the early implementation of digital solutions, but re-engineering can be expensive. Therefore, organizations must make smart technology choices for new projects at an early stage itself. For instance, cloud-based solutions or standardized IoT platforms could accelerate the initial deployment of new solutions and support the integration of large-scale applications.
To get the most out of Industry 4.0, organizations will need the required talent. Adoption may not be smooth for organizations that do not have the right talent and processes in place.
As organizations figure out the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, they must also keep an eye on the future. Industry 5.0, which centers around human-machine interactions, is more resilient and sustainable, and is on its way.
The author is Partner Technology Consulting at EY
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