Industry 4.0 is taking shape with support from several governments, large industry groups, and startups trying to find a place in the fast-growing ecosystem. The initiative, a brainchild of the German government, which coined the phrase Industry 4.0, is known as "smart factory" or "advance manufacturing" in other countries.
Recently, Huawei and NXP announced an agreement to jointly explore the Industry 4.0 market. The two companies plan to join forces, using Huawei's manufacturing power and NXP's connectivity and security technology, to develop new products and standards. "Huawei and NXP will collaborate in the following areas: physical layer, network layer, and cyber security. The partnership will fully integrate Huawei's ICT infrastructure and connectivity solutions and NXP's secure connectivity solutions for Industry 4.0. Collaboration will focus on Industry 4.0 applications, such as factory automation, logistics 4.0, wireless secure connections, and sensor networks," the press release said.
China is potentially a leading customer for this Industry 4.0 movement. With that in mind, the two companies said that "[they] will develop a global leading Industry 4.0 networking solution that creates sustainable value for customers in Greater China region and potentially across the globe."
The Chinese plan to invest $1.25 trillion over the next three years in modernizing and transforming the nation's industry in a bid to re-shape the huge manufacturing sector and turn it into a streamlined paragon of efficiency and flexibility.
One of the key factors in making the change is power efficiency. Today, China's manufacturing industry is extremely power hungry and consumes most of the electricity generated by power plants, which also churn out mountains of pollution. Of all the power generated, industry motors consume 46%. If those motors were replaced with more efficient machines and better control systems that figure could be drastically reduced.
We are already experiencing parts of this Industry 4.0 revolution. The Internet of Things is being introduced across industrial, commercial, and service sectors. Companies are installing connected sensors along the supply chain and commercial corridors to monitor and track the flow of parts, raw materials, goods and services. The IoT is not only transforming factory control and production structures, it is also increases agility and flexibility in the production process.
The advent of 3D printing is also fueling the Industry 4.0 revolution. No longer is it necessary to wait for production facilities somewhere else to manufacture expensive prototypes. This will enable industry to individualize to a high degree even the smallest volumes, while retaining optimum productivity and making multi-variant production a reality.
"There are three things really that need to be in place for Industry 4.0 to become a reality," according to Tim Dawson, senior director, industrial automation at IHS Technology. First: more control throughout the system and more distributed control. Second: pervasive sensing. And third: efficient big data analysis.
Security concerns need to be addressed. The Stuxnet hack that rendered unusable one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges, perpetrated on Siemens' PLCs, created in the industry a reasonable distrust of connected computers. And in 2011 the Duqu worm was discovered. Unlike Stuxnet, to which it seems to be related, it was designed to gather information rather than to interfere with industrial operations.
"What we see is that a lot of industrial control systems are hooked up to the Internet," said Roel Schouwenberg, senior anti-virus researcher of Kaspersky Lab. "They don't change the default password, so if you know the right keywords [through a Google search] you can find these control panels."
Here is where NXP could provide the necessary security tools. The Dutch company is the co-inventor of NFC technology, and it's the European leader in secure communications and hardware encryption using secure elements. Embedding control systems with unique keys and a secure element --similar to the SIM card of a cellular phone-- could eliminate the need for complicated passwords and additional security.
Another issue is the industry's reluctance to change. Machine builders are not rushing to implement this technology and, while most of the technologies necessary for Industry 4.0 already exist, not many suppliers are in a position to offer a comprehensive, easy-to-implement package. The combination of Huawei and NXP solutions could provide the framework most machine manufacturers seek.
If used correctly, Industry 4.0 tools could help increase manufacturing efficiency, enable smaller, local manufacturers to compete with foreign giants, and bring flexibility and savings to the entire manufacturing sector.
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