by Dr. Phil Marshall, Chief Research Officer, Tolaga Research
Industry 4.0 is a hot topic for manufacturers as they play their part in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With Industry 4.0, manufacturing equipment is augmented with wireless connectivity, sensor technology and intelligence to enable cyber physical capabilities and digitize manufacturing processes. Notable Industry 4.0 use cases include agile factory automation, preventative maintenance, workforce management and augmentation, machine optimization and remote monitoring and control.
Wireless connectivity is needed to achieve the agility demanded by Industry 4.0, particularly in large scale manufacturing facilities. Currently wireless is only used sparingly, typically with unlicensed spectrum technologies. Several competing wireless technologies are emerging as candidates for Industry 4.0, including WiFi-6 for unlicensed spectrum, and 4G-LTE and 5G in licensed spectrum bands. Recent 5G technology releases (Releases 15, 16 and 17) have incorporated key capabilities for Industry 4.0, such as ultra-reliable low latency connectivity (uRLCC), Ethernet-TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) integration, and a variety of features for massive machine type communications (mMTC).
The first 5G networks went commercial in April 2019 and targeted enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services for consumers. For communication network operators (CNO), eMBB is a natural extension of their successful 4G-LTE services. However, 5G promises much more as CNOs look to vertical industry applications, albeit with complex ecosystem demands and systems integration challenges. For 5G to gain a foothold with Industry 4.0, it must have the support of a broad range of ecosystem stakeholders, including CNOs, communication and industrial technology providers, systems integrators, and Tier 1 manufacturers.
At Tolaga Research we recently conducted a study using natural language processing (NLP) of online content to investigate the 5G sentiment of key Industry 4.0 ecosystem stakeholders. Over six hundred companies were identified from online searches of news and press releases relating to smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0. Targeted searches for each company were conducted to identify online content published between 2016 and 2019 that related specifically to 5G and manufacturing. In each case where relevant content was identified, it was tagged with a sentiment ranking. The sentiment ranking of the content was then associated with an ecosystem category, so that aggregate category ranks could be calculated, see Exhibit 1. The key ecosystem categories shown in Exhibit 1 include:
- Communication and connectivity technology providers such as Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE, who have strong incentives to drive demand for 5G technology and are pioneering use cases for industry 4.0. The rank estimates in Exhibit 1 have communication and connectivity providers being the first to become publicly engaged with 5G for manufacturing in the 2017 time-frame.
- Communication Network Operators (CNO) such as Deusche Telekom, NTT, Singtel, Telefonica and Verizon, who have been trialing Industry 4.0 initiatives and are eager to expand 5G into vertical markets. The rank for CNOs shown in Exhibit 1 has a similar profile to communication and connectivity providers, but with a lag of approximately 12 months.
- IT hardware, software and services companies, like Amazon AWS, Dell, IBM, HPE, Mahindra and Microsoft Azure. These companies are already providing solutions to many industries, including manufacturing. The companies are not dependent on the success of 5G but are eager to capitalize on the broader Industry 4.0 opportunities that might depend on 5G connectivity in the future.
- Semiconductors and embedded system providers such as Analog Devices, Arduino, Intel, nVidia, NXP and Qualcomm, who have varying degrees of interest in 5G. Companies like Qualcomm, who are heavily invested in 5G are pioneering use cases, including those relating to manufacturing. Other players recognize that they must be prepared in advance to respond to 5G market demands should they arise.
- Industrial technology, robotics and automation solution providers, such as ABB, Applied Robotics, Hitachi, Honeywell, Rockwell, and Siemens, who provide a range of general purpose and specialized solutions to manufacturers. Some companies have trialed 5G, but full engagement from companies in this category will only come once there is clear evidence of 5G demand from manufacturers.
- Manufacturers including those for the automotive, heavy industries, life sciences and aerospace and defense, will ultimately determine the fate of 5G with Industry 4.0. Some manufacturers are aggressive in their pursuit of 5G. For example, Volkswagen in Germany has acquired industrial radio spectrum resources and plans to deploy private 5G. While other manufacturers have trialed 5G and investigated other technologies like WiFi-6, many manufacturers have yet to investigate their wireless strategies.
Wireless and industry 4.0 adoption are inextricably linked. Industry 4.0 is challenging to implement and has greater prospects with manufacturers that are being disrupted. For example, the automotive industry is being disrupted by companies like Tesla and every industry will be disrupted in varying degrees in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Exhibit 1: Online Content Sentiment for 5G and Manufacturing
Source: Tolaga Research, 2020
Although 5G momentum is increasing, 5G is still nascent and must mature with clear justification for all ecosystem stakeholders. Radio spectrum must also be availed. While some companies (e.g. Volkswagen) are capitalizing on dedicated industrial spectrum allocations for Private 5G, radio spectrum will mostly come through partnerships between manufacturers and local CNOs. The 5G standards must continue to evolve to incorporate industrial technologies and to account for the salient characteristics for Industry 4.0 operating environments. Manufacturers and industrial technology suppliers must be engaged as these standards are developed and 5G solutions must be created specifically for industrial environments. In addition, 5G has competition from emerging unlicensed spectrum technologies like WiFi-6. Industry 4.0 needs wireless, but there is a lot to be done for 5G to prove that it is the right solution.