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Re-booting industry for the digital age

As published by

Industry 4.0 will see intelligent machines and smart factories usher in a new era of manufacturing. This is the fourth industrial revolution, and it will impact everything.

Massive industrial change is afoot, fuelled by the advancement of digital technologies. The fusion of physical and virtual worlds into a cyber-physical system will have a disruptive impact on every element of manufacturing.

This transformation, referred to as ‘Industry 4.0’, has the potential to retool global industry and reorder the global economy.

First introduced by the German government to promote the computerisation of manufacturing, the term Industry 4.0 refers to a fourth industrial revolution – following those ushered in by steam power, electrical power and computing. The German government has since promoted the concept vigorously as a means to new economic growth.

It has good reason to. Countries that lead this new industrial charge stand to make significant gains in terms of economic productivity. For some, and for Western Europe as a whole, it presents an opportunity to reverse an epic decline that has lasted a generation.


In the past two decades, European industry has struggled. Marginal gains in Germany and Poland have been offset by the lengthening shadow of deindustrialisation in other territories, notably in the UK, France and Spain. Overall, Western Europe’s contribution has slumped by 10 per cent, from around 35 per cent of total industrial output in the early 1990s.
At the same time, emerging economies have doubled their share to 40 per cent. And where new manufacturing jobs have been plentiful in markets such as China, in Europe they have vanished – by eight per cent in Germany and as much as 29 per cent in the UK.

Germany has so far led with the concept of Industry 4.0 in Europe, and started to set down new standards around it. The US, which brands the concept as the ‘industrial internet’, established the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition as far back as 2012 to encourage industry to collaborate on new technological platforms and standards.

The world’s new economic powers are also engaged. In South Korea, the government has introduced legislation to promote IT integration initiatives with key sectors, such as automotive and shipbuilding, and set up innovation centres to help development.

Similar work is underway in the world’s largest manufacturing economy, China, which has just launched a major new initiative, dubbed ‘Made in China 2025’, to restructure and streamline key industrial sectors and raise their global competitiveness.

For industry, the race to shorten production times, reduce costs and improve quality never lets up. Something has to change, or else something has to give. “A best-case scenario is the introduction of new industrial technologies,” says Xin Yongfei, vice president of policy and research at the China Academy of ICT. “There is an opportunity now for developed countries to rethink industrial development.”


These technologies are available already. By 2025, 100 billion connections – 90 per cent from intelligent sensors in machines of all kinds – will link the globe as a direct result of information and communication technologies (ICT), reckons Huawei, a leading global provider of information and communications ICT solutions.

Everything that can be connected will be connected, as an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). Computing has gone from the boardroom to the street, and is now finding its way into the nerve endings of industry. Its chief protagonists are looking to build a grand industrial system that integrates all manufacturing processes and enables the exchange of information between them in real time.

Traditional industries now have an unprecedented degree of integration between information, communication and manufacturing systems at their disposal, including:
• smart sensors that knit together an industrial IoT, allowing real-time data collection during production processes;
• ubiquitous broadband, allowing large amounts of data to be transmitted between people, machines and production sites;
• cloud computing, allowing the instant storage and availability of date at any location, and;
• big data analytics, allowing huge volumes of data to be processed collaboratively.

But there is work to be done. Huawei makes the point that a robust communications network must be the starting-point for linking people and intelligent machines in smart factories. “To realise Industry 4.0, the current ICT infrastructure needs to be reconstructed.

Connectivity is the key,” says Yan Lida, president of Huawei’s enterprise division.
“The scale is vastly different. There are seven billion people on this planet, and the scale at which we currently connect is in the several billions. But for the industrial Internet of Things, we will need to connect hundreds of billions of devices. What kind of a network can accommodate so many devices at a reasonable cost?”

It’s not just cost, however. Yan Lida might as easily point to other challenges with current network technology, such as latency, security and fragmentation. In this new era, business and mission critical data will rely on real-time communications. Data will be carried on both public and private networks, and stored in the cloud. Data networks with lower-latency connections and more robust security features are required.

More than this, better-defined standards are required to ensure interoperability of networks, devices and services across industry.


Huawei has the answer, with its ‘smart and connected industrial network’ solution. In essence, this comprises a data network, a chipset and a gateway, each designed specifically for large-scale industrial processes, collaboration and machine communications.

Its ‘enhanced’ LTE (eLTE) network, a private enterprise version of the consumer 4G (LTE) technology, can carry a variety of services and integrate with fibre broadband and other voice and data solutions. Its next-generation 5G networks will provide still higher capacity and lower latency, which is something akin to the girth of the communications pipe itself and the speed at which information is passed between two points along it.

5G can support one million connections within a radius of one square kilometre, and latency of just one millisecond, which is an improvement of 1,000 times and 50 times, respectively, compared with existing 4G technologies. Huawei says it can support 10,000 HD camera feeds at the same time.

Huawei supplies the hardware and software components for factory devices to connect up to its data network, in the form of a low-power LTE sensor chip for machine communications (LTE-M) and a ‘Smart IoT Gateway’ to simplify connectivity between devices.

Huawei’s LTE-M chip is a mainstream solution for next generation machine communications, which works in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands, reserved internationally for purposes other than commercial telecoms.

It is designed to support high data rates and bandwidth. It provides coverage at 1km radius, and 10,000 connections per cell, which effectively means a single base station, will provide blanket coverage and capacity in a mid-sized enterprise campus. It also uses very little power, enabling 10 years of operation without changing the battery, making it well suited for complex factory set-ups.

Another key part of Huawei’s Industry 4.0 proposition is its Smart IoT gateway, which supports various interfaces and enables unified access across many smart devices. It is also providing a management platform to help factories manage and process Big Data, and cloud architecture to supports multi-application collaboration on distributed platforms, bring efficiencies to engineering, production, warehousing, sales and distribution.

Solutions that integrate industry clouds, agile networks, eLTE , 5G, smart IOT gateway and smart devices with in-built LTE-M chipsets will bridge the gap between machines, people and data.”


Nevertheless, we remain behind the starting blocks of this revolution. Major work has still to be done to standardise and apply these new technologies in myriad industrial settings.
Patrick Zhang, president of Huawei’s marketing and solutions department says: “Unprecedented amounts of data will be generated as a result of massive amounts of information being exchanged between people, between machines, and between people and machines.

“Managing this data will require complex tools, powerful communications infrastructure and reliable security. Rebuilding industry for the 21st century and beyond will require the cooperation of all its stakeholders, including manufacturers, governments, academia and ICT providers.”

Huawei makes a point of highlighting its collaboration with software provider SAP, research organisation Fraunhofer and semiconductor manufacturer NXP to automate maintenance of construction equipment. With its embedded smart vehicle gateway installed in construction vehicles, faults can be identified before they occur.

Failure rates can be reduced by up to 70 per cent, and vehicle downtime from two hours to just 30 minutes per months, compared with routine manual maintenance.

Yan Lida issues a final clarion call: “Presently, there are organisations that have been set up in Europe, America and China to move Industry 4.0 forward. But without cooperation across the entire industry chain, the opportunity will not be realised. Huawei is committed to nurturing our deep relationships with other leading vendors to jointly promote the creation of a vibrant Industry 4.0 ecosystem.”