Feb 05, 2021 Telecom

Expect More, Better, And Different With 5G And Industry 4.0

By Jeff Gowan

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Industry 4.0 is accelerating

The fourth industrial revolution is identified by connectivity, cyber-physical systems, and an intelligent edge network. To understand just where we are in the fourth industrial revolution, we spoke with nearly 500 industrial leaders in the US and Europe to understand what their current objectives are, what initiatives they are pursuing to meet those objectives, and what technologies and use cases they think will drive those initiatives the most. Along the way we inquired about expected outcomes, connectivity preferences, and timelines.

We’ve captured the results of this survey in a series of videos that come together in to a full-length web seminar. To view the web seminar or videos on the sections you are most interested in, visit 5G and Industry 4.0: Where Promise Meets Reality.

Manufacturers lean in on improvement

As manufacturers look to the future, there are 5 key areas they are focused on: Optimizing supply chain, innovations, enhanced time critical control, remote control operations, and optimizing non-time critical control. While these initiatives themselves aren’t surprising, the fact that 70% of the respondents are actively engaged in ALL FIVE initiatives is notable. 20% claim to have solutions already while 70% are in the planning or deployment stage with only 10% saying they have no plans to pursue. This is a clear indicator of the appetite for evolution and growth.

Not your father’s technology

There are countless ways to go about pursuing these initiatives, but we focused on the technologies. When given a list of 21 different technologies, these were the ones selected as being most important for success with the given initiative. In other words, if you are looking for technologies to help with a variety of initiatives, these could be considered the best “bang for buck” in priority order: Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous collaborative robotics, Machine equipment diagnostics, cloud computing/cloud-native applications, cloud to edge PaaS, Industrial automation, machine learning, digital twins, edge computing. You may have noticed that nearly all of these either require, or will be made better, by an intelligent edge infrastructure.

Great expectations

Many see continual improvement as a core company and/or personal value and that’s enough reason to engage. For some it’s a means of staying competitive, or simply surviving. The top benefits our survey respondents expect as a result of engaging in the initiatives above are greater security, higher production efficiencies, and improved product design and quality. When we dug into motivations based on performance measures, the majority of respondents told us they expect a 50% lift OR MORE in Customer satisfaction, internal confidence, competitive advantage, and profit margins as a result of adopting new technologies. Suffice to say, expectations are very high.

Expect some bumps in the road

But just because you want something doesn’t mean you will get it, at least not right away. 89% of respondents expect barriers to deploying the technologies to address their initiatives. The top barriers include the “need to upgrade or re-engineer legacy systems,” “lack of internal skills or knowledge,” and “more investment in associated tech are unclear.” Interestingly though, “too high a risk” ranked near the bottom. These results indicate it's really just a matter of prioritizing investment to get these initiatives rolling.

5G: Adopters, testers, laggards.

A critical component of enabling these technologies to have impact on improvement initiatives is connectivity, and 5G is the clear leader beating out wireless networks, in-plant networks, WAN solutions, private LTE and Wi-fi 6. In fact, 36% of respondents fall in to the “adopter” category as they expect to use 5G in the near term as a connectivity solution across their programs. This is a bit surprising as typically industrial firms are reluctant to be early adopters, but this response says they view 5G differently. The next 35% expect to use 5G on a handful of technologies, putting them in the “tester” category. The remaining 29% would be considered “laggards” and don’t intend to use 5G across their technologies in the near term. However, 50% expect to adopt 5G to some degree within the next year, 60% expecting to adopt in the next 2 years and a full 81% expect to adopt 5G within the next 5 years.

Surprising results, but not really.

The adoption rates we found in the survey were rather astonishing considering how early we are with the 5G rollout. However, this isn’t an isolated finding. The figures echo the sentiments of a different survey we did last year that found Covid-19 seemed to be acting as a catalyst to speed technology projects and adoption by accelerating 1 in 3 5G projects, and speeding cloud-based application development, container based development, AI, and applications at the edge.

Covid-19 may have shifted but did not stop momentum.

As ARC Advisory notes in their report this too was a post-Covid-19 survey. Most of the respondents were already engaged in multi-year initiatives to upgrade their systems to achieve “Industry 4.0.” “During the year 2020 manufacturers have struggled to maintain production in the face of disruptions to their supply chains and operations caused by the global pandemic.” However, the results “indicate that all the Industry 4.0 initiatives remain in place, now with more focus on supply chain improvements, innovations, and remote operations support.” If anything, these companies are trying to pull forward the target dates for longer-term initiatives they had already planned.  It appears they are trying to accelerate their digital transformation.

More, better, and different.

We are at an inflection point. Some of these industrial firms were already on their way with implementing new technologies knowing that 5G is coming at a pace. The Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened focus around the world on the need to accelerate projects that take advantage of the intelligent edge. The rich mix of technologies being used today, and expected to be in use tomorrow, indicate a confidence in the potential for not just more, or better, solutions but in some cases completely different.

Visit 5G and Industry 4.0: Where Promise Meets Reality to watch the videos now.

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