Internet of Business’s comprehensive guide to where Industry 4.0 will lead manufacturers in the year ahead.

Most manufacturers believe they are leading their markets in Industry 4.0 technologies, despite evidence to the contrary. There is a huge gap between the many companies that are exploring digital manufacturing strategies – via technologies such as automation, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things – and those that are implementing them successfully.

With Brexit looming, many manufacturers and solutions providers fear what this will mean for the wider European industrial community, which depends on the free movement of people and confident investment.

The UK Budget recently sought to soften this blow by reinforcing the UK’s commitment to a strong environment for international scientific collaboration. Since 2016, the government has invested an additional £7 billion in research and development, the largest increase to R&D in 40 years:

As part of this investment in R&D, the government will increase the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund by £1.1 billion, supporting technologies of the future.

This includes up to £121 million for the Made Smarter initiative to support the transformation of manufacturing through digitally enabled technologies, such as the Internet of Things and virtual reality.

Despite a mixed political outlook in Europe, manufacturers can be optimistic that emerging technologies offer the means to become more efficient, productive and profitable.

Worldwide, companies are currently piloting an average of eight different Industry 4.0 solutions, mainly across connectivity, intelligence and flexible automation.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released a list of what it says are nine of the world’s smartest factories when it comes to adopting industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies.

Five of the so-called ‘lighthouse factories’ are located in Europe. According to the WEF, their geographic distribution demonstrates that while Europe “may have struggled to produce its own homegrown internet giant, the region remains a powerhouse when it comes to applying advanced technology to manufacturing.”

These companies all have several things in common: agile teams with domain, analytics, IoT and software development expertise; a common data/IoT platform; and up to 15 use cases already in action. They are thinking about scale, and are agile.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is delivering productivity gains and transforming the future of manufacturing, but the movement is far from over.

As change consultant Sean Culey set out in his report for Internet of Business earlier this year, the manufacturing sector will experience deep-rooted change over the next few years.

The confluence of a range of technologies will shift manufacturing away from monolithic processes based on the lowest labour cost and towards more personalised, automated, and localised value chains, based on customer need.

As we approach the new year, we’ve delved into 10 smart factory trends that are set to see wider adoption in 2019.

1 | Collaborative robots will augment workforces

A recent WEF report shows that AI and related technologies will bring about a net gain in employment, though jobs will be both created and lost in the process. Therefore, organisations and governments must prepare for the shift in roles that AI might create.

To maximise the potential of the digital economy, we will need to nurture a new skills pool, not only by training more people in STEM, engineering and data sciences, but also by up-skilling our existing workforce.

The most successful businesses will be those that also help their people do what they do better with the new digital tools that are available. In other words those that focus on using digital and robotics innovations to augment their workforces, rather than replace them.

As with preceding industrial revolutions, Industry 4.0 is driving social change, which is often disruptive. To be able to cope with the human impact of these changes, governments will need to work with educational institutions and the private sector to adapt social policies and support the people who risk being left behind.

A new wave of factory automation is underway and robots are entering new environments and creating new value for manufacturers. In part, this trend is driven by the availability of collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’, that are cheaper, more mobile and more flexible than their predecessors and that can work safely alongside human colleagues.

Driverless/guided vehicles and cobots that work with human beings are transforming the factory floor.

In October 2018, The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) published its annual report on the state of the industrial robotics market worldwide.

It found that 2017 sales of industrial robots increased by 30 percent year on year to 381,335 units, the fifth year of record growth.

Robot sales to automotive manufacturers increased by 22 percent to a new peak of nearly 125,700 units, while carmakers remained the biggest customers for industrial robots last year, with a one-third share of the total supply.

Between 2012 and 2017, robot sales to the automotive industry increased by 14 percent a year on average.

Europe is the region with the highest industrial robot density, with an average of 106 units per 10,000 employees, and Germany excelled at 322 units per 10,000 employees. However, this is some way behind South Korea’s 710 robots per 10,000 workers.

The IFR forecasts continued annual industrial robot growth of five percent in Germany over the next three years.

These figures are relatively conservative. Opportunities and business cases for employing robotics will expand as the technology develops and becomes more affordable. New technologies and business models are making robotics viable for more businesses.

2 Cloud robotics & APIs will give manufacturers greater control

One such change is that the robotics control and development environment is becoming more open. APIs are enabling end-users to customise and optimise robotics solutions for their own needs and do away with proprietary control systems.

Microsoft’s recently announced Windows support for the Robot Operating System (ROS) and membership of the industrial consortium marks this greater openness in the development of industrial robotics.

ROS is a flexible framework that enables developers to write software for advanced robotic behaviours. While the collection of tools, libraries, and conventions has historically only had official support on Linux, developers will now be able to utilise the tools in Windows 10.

The move will see Microsoft work with Open Robotics and the ROS Industrial Consortium to bring the Robot Operating System to Windows.

Microsoft has also joined the Consortium, which works to extend the advanced capabilities of ROS into manufacturing and improve the productivity and return on investment of industrial robots.

Bringing different research groups and companies with different, complementary skill sets together for the benefit of the wider community will be crucial to the wider successful application of industrial robotics.

Enterprise computing is no longer quite so cloud-centric, and manufacturers and solution providers increasingly want to get as close as possible to the metal. Robotics and edge computing will be intrinsically linked in the future of Industry 4.0.

Meanwhile, cloud robotics is allowing robots to be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. Making collaboration between global workforces more flexible and more efficient.

Over the next couple of years, voice control, via AI assistants capable of natural language processing, will start to play a greater role, freeing up factory workers for more advanced collaboration.

3 Robotics-as-a-service will make robotics viable for smaller manufacturers

The idea of Robotics as a Service, which sees companies pay a subscription fee for robots rather than buying them upfront, is gaining ground in manufacturing and logistics.

The concept of Robotics as a service (RaaS) is quickly gaining ground in manufacturing, and one of its latest proponents is industrial robotics firm Kuka, which is taking the idea to a whole new level.

The German company, which was acquired by Chinese consumer products manufacturer Midea back in 2016, recently announced that it is launching a new SmartFactory as a Service initiative. Also onboard are MHP – a Porsche Group consultancy specialising in the automotive and manufacturing sectors – and insurance giant, Munich Re.

The idea is that the service offers an opportunity for manufacturing companies – particularly automakers – to outsource a capital-intensive part of their business, avoid upfront investment costs, and offload risk. The partners claim that SmartFactory as a Service could reduce time-to-market for some manufactured products by as much as 30 percent.

What’s clear is that Kuka’s is an extremely ambitious vision: it’s one thing to rent out a robot and another to rent out an entire factory. In the meantime, however, there are plenty of companies working on more modest versions of a service-based approach to industrial robotics.

According to a May 2018 report from ABI Research, Robotics as a Service is an elastic concept, meaning different things to different vendors. But generally speaking, it is broadly used to describe a business model based on renting or leasing robots as a full service, rather than asking customers to pay upfront to own them.

RaaS will see providers absorb the maintenance and upgrade cycle into their on-demand services, meaning that users are no longer stuck with fast-depreciating assets as smarter, faster, more programmable robots become available.

4 5G & Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) will help keep factory workers informed

In the UK, the recent Budget revealed funding for fibre and 5G will increase from the £25 million seen in 2017-18, to £290 million in 2023-24.

While in August, the West Midlands was selected to become the home of the UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed. The multimillion-pound programme will pave the way for the future rollout of 5G technologies across the UK, making the region the first in the country to be ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale.

This is representative of public and private 5G initiatives throughout Europe, which promise to unlock new connectivity capabilities for smart factories and the supply chain.

Manufacturers are increasingly turning to mobile technology to give workers on the factory floor access to data analytics and vital alerts from a huge number of data points.

Automated robotics and other processes also rely on fast, reliable connectivity. As commercial 5G rolls out in 2019, manufacturers with have greater choice and new opportunities to leverage wireless connectivity for their expanding data and automation needs.

By placing these sorts of automated, intelligent applications in the hands of enterprise workers, via phones and tablets, manufacturers are enabling a more informed and mobile workforce. This has the potential to boost efficiency levels, collaboration, and decision-making.

One element of this is Multi-access Edge Computing (or Mobile Edge Computing). It puts cloud computing capabilities at the edge of a cellular network, avoiding network congestion and reducing costs. Expect 5G to create new interest in the technology and expand its usefulness.

5 Edge computing will see new use cases

For over a decade, consumer and enterprise technology users have had their heads in the cloud. But with the ever-growing workloads that will be tied to 5G, autonomy, the Internet of Things (IoT), and real-time analytics, businesses are starting to look elsewhere for their computing needs.

We are connecting more devices, and crunching more data more quickly than ever before. The latency of hosted solutions demands a new approach, especially for time-critical processing – in some smart city or connected/driverless transport applications, for example, where split-second reactions may be essential.

As a result, users and providers alike are moving towards the so-called edge environment, with vendors such as Dell and Microsoft investing billions of dollars in IoT portfolios and edge computing services, which move processing and intelligence closer to the point of need.

These increasing data and real-time analysis requirements have given rise to edge computing, and other distributed approaches. By placing data storage and analysis capabilities at the edge – as close as possible to the sensors, pumps, generators, or whatever hardware is crucial to your operations – users are given several advantages over cloud-based solutions.

Reducing the amount of data sent to the cloud cuts out unnecessary data transfers, simplifies cybersecurity, and decreases network and system response times, meaning data and analysis on critical processes are kept as up to date as possible.

In short, cutting out the latency of a cloud-based network could mean the difference between addressing mission-critical issues just in time, or getting information that is too little, too late.

Of course, rarely in the IoT space does one size fit all. Cloud solutions are often cheaper, more powerful, easier to implement, integrate, and scale, and shift the cost burden from capital to operational expenditure. Plus, there are many advantages in storing data centrally and off-premise when it comes to mobility, remote working, collaboration, and flexibility.

Ultimately, it boils down to workload urgency and costs. How much are users willing to process their workloads on scarce resources at the edge? And which elements can be handled in off hours, or shipped off via low-orbit satellites to a location with cheaper power?

The advantages of the technology are clear when you look at examples such as LG’s use of Google’s new Edge TPU in the machine learning-enabled cameras used for the QA checking of its LCD panels. As a result, the processes’ fault-detection accuracy increased from 50 percent to 99.9 percent, which has ultimately meant a saving of $20 million a year.

6 Cybersecurity will be given greater priority

Nearly half (48 percent) of UK manufacturers have been victims of a cyber attack, according to the Cyber Security for Manufacturing report.

The threat of a cyber attack is also holding back manufacturers from investing in digital technologies, with one-third of those surveyed nervous of carrying out digital improvements and transformation programmes.

12 percent of manufacturers have no process measures in place at all to mitigate against cyber threats.

While the paper welcomed government moves to improve national cybersecurity resilience, it added that no priority has been given to the specific needs of manufacturing.

Therefore, the motivation for change is coming from manufacturers themselves, with 59 percent reporting that they have already been asked by a customer to demonstrate or guarantee the robustness of their cybersecurity processes.

Industry 4.0 has made manufacturers quick to recognise the opportunities to cut costs, increase production and predict maintenance needs. And they have had to sensitively negotiate the complexities of a reduced human workforce as part of that transformation.

However, this quick response and the resultant challenges have often come at the expense of cybersecurity. IoT solutions are tacked onto legacy machinery, with 10-year-old plants performing alongside brand new ones on many factory floors.

Throughout 2019, manufacturers will allocate larger budgets to ensuring any digital innovations are secure by design and regularly updated against cybersecurity threats.

With cyber attacks becoming ever more commonplace, and their creators increasingly capable, manufacturers must act fast to keep up – or risk serious financial losses and damaged reputations.

7 AI & advanced analytics will become near-ubiquitous

Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence foster better decision-making. Examples include predictive maintenance, digital quality management, and AI-driven demand forecasting.

However, there’s nothing to be gained from simply collecting data as an end in itself; there must be some business value in the insights.

Often this will involve taking new data from sensors and actuators and combining it with existing data from legacy machinery and other systems.

At its best, the Internet of Things allows companies to avoid overstocking, downtime, and unnecessary fuel usage; to optimise maintenance schedules and output; monitor critical processes; increase automation; and better understand and serve their customers.

AI has a key role to play in the smart factory, helping manufacturers predict demand patterns and allocate resources far more accurately. In other words, AI allows manufacturers to answer questions based on cold, hard data rather than human guesswork.

For example, at Bosch Automotive, Wuxi, China, advanced data analytics are helping the company to deeply understand and eliminate output losses, simulate and optimise process settings, and predict machine interruptions before they occur.

8 Digital twins will be employed more widely across manufacturing and the supply chain

A key aspect of such technology is the digital twin. Digital twins allow companies to model their machines, processes, and networks in a virtual environment and use them to predict problems before they happen, as well as boost productivity and efficiency.

When combined with sensors that monitor temperature, pressure, RPM, and other critical factors, workers can prevent problems more effectively and react faster – often thanks to alerts sent to mobile devices.

A viable business strategy will identify such uses cases, calculate the potential improvements that the IoT could make, connect data and business process efficiency, and measure them against the cost of implementing and maintaining the new technology.

In this example, a business case for IoT will de-risk the implementation by guaranteeing downtime reduction and identifying business outcomes.

For example, at a time of major volume growth at Bayer Pharmaceuticals Division’s Garbagnate site, in Italy, the company deployed a digital twin-based scheduling programme to drive improvements in its quality-control lab.

At Laing O’Rourke, digital twin use-cases include construction phasing, factory planning, bottleneck resolution, logistics, route planning, and simulating the built environment itself, taking the technology beyond the factory-based applications where it is usually deployed.

9 Additive manufacturing will be used to create final products

As 3D printers become cheaper, faster, more accurate and better able to work with a broader range of materials, including production-grade ones, they’re increasingly used to make final products, not just prototypes.

This is referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’, because these machines lay down layer after layer of a given material to create a ready-made object, as opposed to the ‘subtractive’ business of cutting, drilling and hammering material away.

With manufacturing of production tools reduced from six weeks to just two days and tool production costs slashed by 40 percent, additive manufacturing is really paying off for French aircraft design and manufacturing group Latécoère.

So much so, in fact, that engineers at the company, which works with aerospace giants including Airbus, Bombardier and Dassault, are starting to explore the idea of using 3D printing in the creation of production parts.

Volkswagen and HP have showcased their plans to put metal 3D printing to work on production lines, alongside partner GKN Powder Metallurgy, a company that supplies components to Volkswagen.

In 2019, GKN and Volkswagen plan to begin 3D printing small components for automobiles, initially in small runs to develop the technology. The first structural components for mass-production vehicles, meanwhile, are expected within the next two to three years.

Several other automakers are also pursuing 3D printing. 2018 was the year additive manufacturing went beyond prototyping for many manufacturers. 2019 will build on this as the technology becomes more capable and affordable, and designers learn to utilise its strengths.

10 Wearables will become commonplace on the factory floor

So much of industry 4.0 is about enabling factory workers to become more efficient and providing them with easy access to crucial information.

This is clearly evident in the wearables space, where manufacturers are beginning to use digital performance management and augmented reality (AR) to move the right information to the right people in real-time. These tactics help communicate interactive work instructions and standard operating procedures.

Immersive technologies are moving from “hypothetical to pragmatic use” in industrial companies, with AR emerging as the early winner, according to a recent Capgemini report.

Bio-pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has found success by using the Unity engine on Microsoft’s HoloLens, and has been able to start translating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the AR device. This allows operators to navigate through checklists and carry out tasks under the direction of the HoloLens.

In one example, the device traces a red line over a machine operator’s field of vision, showing them where to thread a roll of paper. Introducing this feature allowed new operators to get the SOP right first time, and it has brought about a 25 percent time-saving for existing operators.

Similarly, Aerospace giant Boeing is using augmented reality (AR) to give technicians instructions for airplane wiring schematics. By putting them directly in workers’ fields of view on smart glasses, the system frees up their hands to focus on the task, reducing wiring time by 25 percent.

Augmented reality is already in use in smart factories around the world, and countless other industrial companies have pilots underway. AR is already worth $20 million each year to computer software and services company PTC.

As success stories pop up ever more frequently, the next year will likely see countless AR pilot schemes across manufacturing and subsequent company-wide roll outs.

Elsewhere in the wearables space, we can expect bodysuits to be employed to offer insights into the safety and efficiency of factory workers.

Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, have already been using a special suit equipped with body tracking technology. The carmaker has employed the tech to design less physically stressful workstations to enhance their manufacturing processes.

The company even refers to its assembly line workers as ‘industrial athletes’ due to the physical demands of the job and their approach to injury prevention.

By accurately tracking its workers movements Ford is enabling data-driven changes to its vehicle production processes, making them safer and more efficient.

As factory employees become increasingly augmented by digital systems, and work alongside cobots, tracking bodysuits and other wearables will enable greater levels of interaction with such systems and allow employees to integrate more deeply into the data-centric strategies of forward-looking manufacturers.

You can hear more on the future of the smart factory, and how to implement Industry 4.0 technology, at Internet of Manufacturing 5-7 February 2019, Munich, Germany.

Internet of Manufacturing DE