What are the latest trends in manufacturing

Future: The trends for Industry 4.0

Technological developments emerge faster and more clearly in the burning glass of a pandemic: AI, 5G, IIoT and edge computing, for example. The manless factory, however, will remain a vision, as will the paperless office. A look at Industry 4.0 trends for decision-makers.

Michael Grupp
Freelance journalist in Stuttgart

The pandemic accelerates all processes that lead to greater resilience and agility. However, since Industry 4.0 has always focused on resilience and maneuverability, the current situation is accelerating the further digitization of production, processes and logistics.

One of the megatrends is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Some trend researchers like Roman Retzbach even see this as a prerequisite for Industry 5.0. However, that is still a long way off. According to the final report of the state “Inquiry Commission for Artificial Intelligence”, two thirds of all market participants expect that German companies are already using AI across the board - for example in marketing. In reality, however, it is just 3%. The boundaries to classic data processing are fluid.

Power without people

Allianz Industrie 4.0 BW defines weak AI (as opposed to conventional IT) as "systems that are capable of self-optimization". These include, for example, machine learning or predictive maintenance - the two AI application areas that have already become the most widespread in industry. The alliance defines strong AI as “machines, robots and software systems that carry out tasks and problems described in abstract terms without specific instructions from humans”. According to the current state of research, however, we will have to wait at least 20 years for this.

There are two milestones on the way: First, the further development of augmented reality. Innovative sensor technologies complement human sensory organs and enable new insights and perspectives for the user. In the next step, the machines slowly detach themselves from human dictation and interact independently with their environment. This development has advanced furthest in autonomous driving; autonomous production will follow in the next 20 years.

No function without radio

The basic requirement for autonomous systems is smooth communication between all components involved. As of today, not only around three billion smartphones communicate worldwide in the wireless network, but also 50 billion machines, devices, vehicles, sensors and buildings. The trend is rapidly increasing, with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) showing the highest percentage growth rates.

Two basic conditions must be met so that sensors and actuators in a smart factory can be orchestrated wirelessly: extremely fast response times and any number of simultaneous users. The upcoming 5G cellular standard is geared towards precisely these requirements.

In the laboratory, 5G already achieves latency times of less than a millisecond. This is ten times faster than the previous LTE and perhaps the decisive time gain when a robot has to be switched off automatically or a valve has to be closed immediately. But here, too, patience is required. The first public 5G antennas have been broadcasting in Berlin since mid-2020 and industrial campus networks are already acting as lighthouse projects - according to Telekom, the 5G network will not be available nationwide until 2025.

Wi-Fi 6 versus 5G

For industry, 5G has the great advantage of an end-to-end complete solution for the corporate network, including indoor and outdoor communication. On the other hand, the Wi-Fi 6 technology (based on the WLAN 802.11ax standard) introduced at the beginning of 2020 has the advantage that it is downward compatible - older generations of devices can continue to work in an existing production structure. In addition, WLAN infrastructures can be set up without much prior knowledge and operated without a provider. The bottom line is that Wi-Fi 6 is a cost-effective network alternative, while 5G, on the other hand, offers higher mobile data rates. Specifically, this is 4 ms in best effort and a maximum of 1 ms for high-availability real-time applications compared to Wi-Fi 6 with 10 ms in best effort and 4 ms with high prioritization.

However, sample calculations put the investment costs for a 5G campus network of a medium-sized company with an office wing and two production halls at around 350,000 euros, plus annual operating costs of almost 20,000 euros.

Less standards bring more

The wild times are over: Industry, associations and manufacturers are working together on binding standards. In Germany, this development is being driven forward, for example, by the “Industry 4.0 Standardization Roadmap” - a recommendation for action initiated by the German Institute for Standardization DIN and the DKE at national level. For communication in the Industry 4.0 environment, an interface standard for industrial communication systems has now been established with OPC UA. It is based on service-oriented architectures (SOA) and information models (OPC UA Companion Specification) for describing devices and their capabilities.

This concept also includes edge computing. With this decentralized data processing "at the edge of the network", sensor and process data are no longer processed centrally, but directly on or in the system. Edge computing is therefore increasingly becoming the basic technology for the smart factory because it significantly reduces data volumes, data streams and all transmission routes. In addition, external access to these self-sufficient network components is no longer possible - in the past, Operation Technology (OT) was repeatedly the gateway for malware.

The cloud is alive - despite or because of edge computing

The decision for or against the cloud is unaffected. Until now, time-critical process and PLC data had to be processed locally on-premise, 5G now offers the necessary access times to externally stored data. In this context, speed is no longer an argument, but security is. According to the sCloud Monitor from Bitkom and the consulting company KPMG, more than three quarters (76%) of all German companies used the cloud for production tasks in 2019. The remaining 24% had doubts above all about security, the legal situation and successful integration into their existing IT infrastructure. Despite all concerns: The future belongs to a hybrid edge, on-premises and cloud infrastructure.

Globalization is upside down

Industry 4.0 and the associated efficiency and agility also set another trend: reshoring, the relocation of previously outsourced production capacities. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW) predicts: "Protectionism, which has increased in recent years, the change in the US trade policy course and, last but not least, the corona crisis have meant that the concept of international value chains has to be put to the test."

Since 2010, around 500 companies have brought parts of their production back to Germany as part of reshoring. The return to the at least European production environment will continue to intensify after Corona. Not all jobs that have migrated will come back, but highly qualified positions will. This in turn will fuel the existing shortage of skilled workers. According to realistic projections, half a million more people will retire in 2030 alone than will enter the labor market.

Decision-makers would therefore do well to understand Industry 4.0 not only as a technological task - but also as a challenge to the attractiveness of their own company.


Industry 4.0 series

We accompany you with our series on the way to digitization. In this issue we highlight the current technological trends for Industry 4.0 and their effects. You can also find all articles online at: www.industrieanzeiger.de


Christoph Winterhalter is CEO of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) in Berlin. Image: DIN

"We have to think about standardization earlier"

Mr. Winterhalter, how do you see norms and standards influencing developments for Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 means above all networking. So that different systems and components can work together seamlessly, a uniform understanding, a common language and open interfaces are required. Norms and standards contribute precisely to this.

What opportunities does standardization offer companies?

It simplifies global trade. Norms as a result of standardization increase efficiency and quality, make products safer and more environmentally friendly. A targeted application saves costs. Participation in standardization also offers great advantages: Companies who actively participate in standardization work have the opportunity to incorporate their own technologies or ideas into national or international standards.

What trends does DIN see in the field of standardization for the economy?

Future topics such as artificial intelligence will have to be considered even earlier in national and European standardization, i.e. already during development. This is extremely important in order to strengthen German business and science in international competition and to create innovation-friendly conditions for the technologies of the future.