The advent of Industry 4.0

Change is coming to industrial manufacturing in the form of Industry 4.0, a vision for smart factories and production lines

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The advent of Industry 4.0 Huawei partnered with SAP on Industry 4.0 at CeBIT 2015.
By  Tom Paye Published  April 21, 2015

ICT infrastructures need to be reorganised if corporations want to be a part of Industry 4.0 — the vision of a smart factory or production line based on the internet of things — according to Yan Lida, Enterprise Business Group president, Huawei.

A new concept to the Middle East — and, admittedly, to most of the world — Industry 4.0 is the natural evolution of the industrial internet of things. The premise is simple; industrial infrastructures, such as those found in mining, manufacturing or production, haven’t changed much since the production line was invented. Of course, new types of machinery have come and gone, but there is very little IT involved in the production line, and certainly industrial systems aren’t gleaning as many benefits from the new wave of IT as other business units are.

But vendors are hoping to change this with the advent of new types of internet of things technologies. At CeBIT 2015, the world’s biggest IT trade show, Huawei made bold claims that it was helping to usher in the new industrial internet. Industry 4.0, the vendor claimed, was coming, and it would require a total rethink of how networks are conceived.

Speaking at a CeBIT keynote session, Lida laid out what Huawei’s vision is for smart industry, and the challenges that the ICT industry faces in realising this vision. He said that, when Industry 4.0 comes around, there will be hundreds of billions of connections between devices, meaning that network architectures need be re-designed.

“Connectivity is the key - the first challenge is the scale of the number of connections,” he said.

“What kind of network can we make to accommodate so many devices? The second challenge is latency. In the context of Industry 4.0, the devices talk to each other, and they react in real time. What kind of network can offer latency as low as 1 millisecond?”

Lida admitted that there were some forward-thinking organisations trying to get around these problems. As an example, he said that one mine in China had constructed a 60-kilometre-long railway line, with a 2.5-kilometre-long train transporting materials from one end to the other. To power the train, there are locomotives at the front and middle of the train, though because there is such a large mass, the sychronisation between these two locomotives is critical.

To ensure the synchronisation, he said that Huawei had provided an eLTE solution to connect the two locomotives — something he claimed that could not be done with traditional Wi-Fi techniques. However, he said that examples such as this did not constitute a shift to Industry 4.0 — simply because the two concepts are different in nature.

“I’d rather call this Industry 3.5. The internet of things and the internet-based system and service platforms are the basis for Industry 4.0,” he said.

“Industry 3.0 and 4.0 are essentially different in nature. For today’s Industry 3.0, most data and information is transmitted and stored on a private network. But in the future, this information and data will be connected to the cloud, and may even be transmitted on a public network.”

Lida said that organisations needed to come to terms with this if they were going to embrace the Industry 4.0 way of thinking. He added that technology vendors have a responsibility to address the problem of fragmentation — indeed, he described fragmentation as one of the most critical barriers to Industry 4.0 adoption.

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