Industry 5.0: How far off are we?
08 June 2021
The last 50 years has seen relentless progress in the manufacturing sector as automation and new technologies provide infinite possibility for growth. But it’s in more recent years that we have seen progress really begin to accelerate in the convergence of automation, new technologies and big data analysis across manufacturing and the supply chain. The ‘smart factories’ this is creating have begun to dominate most industrial sectors.
Manufacturers recognise that to remain competitive, they must invest in new products, processes, and services that generate real returns on investment. Companies must be capable of responding quickly to changing demand with new product designs, enabled by flexible manufacturing processes.
This is perhaps why technology is moving so quickly, it was only a few years ago that Industry 4.0 – the so-called fourth industrial revolution – was hailed as the golden standard. But Industry 5.0 is rapidly becoming the aspiration.
Industry 4.0 saw a huge drive to automate processes putting machines at the heart of manufacturing. While this led to an increase in output, it also highlighted a lack of flexibility in operations. That is to say, without the ability to think critically and analyse data, the need for even a slight variation created a massive problem. This conclusion was perhaps best articulated by Elon Musk following production delays on the Model 3 Tesla who admitted that excessive automation at the factory had been a mistake and that “humans are underrated”.
The same realisation has been felt across manufacturing and now a drive has begun towards interconnectivity between humans and robots. Industry 5.0 sees a drive towards personalisation where humans are put back into industrial production to collaborate with robots. While robots are still used to assist with the heavy lifting, human collaboration provides a level of real-time analysis which means that systems can be adjusted in real-time and potential problems are anticipated.
A change is also being driven externally as customers demand more personalised products as standard. In order to meet this demand, manufacturers are continuing to invest in new technologies and areas of innovation in order to get ahead. Here, we explore some of the key trends:
2020 saw some of the most effective use of 3D printing to date as manufacturers used the technology to meet the demand for medical devices and PPE caused by the pandemic.
Elsewhere 3D printing looks set to become a key stage in the manufacturing process, made highly valuable due to its ability to accept a wide range of product design. It’s also critical for the industry’s drive towards personalisation because of its flexible nature, allowing a single variation of a product, which eliminates the need for high volume manufacture. This is particularly valuable for producing replacement products, reducing possible component obsolescence, and negating the requirement for big warehouses as components can be produced with limited lead time.
Data continues to play a huge part in innovation, with manufacturers continuing to invest in building smart factories which provide a constant flow of information about speed, quality and efficiency.
A weakness exposed by the pandemic is that a lot of data is held on the factory floor, rather than being updated to the cloud, requiring a physical human presence. However, the introduction of 5G is making the exchange of data quicker than ever before and smart devices allow information to be sent automatically rather than having to be manually processed.
A drive towards sustainability is playing a huge part in the introduction of new materials and manufacturers are making a concerted effort to limit the use of substances which might be harmful to the environment, as well as improving product performance and properties.
The search for new, sustainable materials has led manufacturers to invest in R&D and explore the practical use of new materials previously seen at research level, such as graphene.
Virtual reality is also proving a game changer for manufacturers, allowing them to test designs without the need for a physical prototype in the initial stages. This means that by the time you get to the first prototype it’s nearly as good as the finished product which limits waste hugely.
Having so much flexibility around the design process is also critical for manufacturers meeting the demand for personalised products as virtual reality means that altering or creating bespoke designs is easier than ever before.
The manufacturing sector is undergoing a silent but radical transformation as new innovations continue to pave a way to Industry 5.0. Valuable lessons have been learned from increased automation but now those who are able to balance new technologies with a higher level of human intervention will find themselves several steps ahead.