If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past two years it’s that even though we can never fully predict the future, we must plan for it anyway.
It was this sort of thinking that led the communities at Revolution in Simulation and NAFEMS to come together for a webinar series exploring how the latest technological trends and simulation methods will develop and impact industry and society over the next decade.
In this episode, Dr Joshua Huang from Tesla (also a member of the NAFEMS Americas Steering Committee, and our Manufacturing Process Simulation Working Group) leads a discussion with guest speakers Ragu Athinarayanan, a professor at Purdue University, and Lynne McGregor, a senior innovation leader at UK Research and Innovation.
'At the beginning of 2020, the number of bytes in the digital universe was 40 times bigger than the number of stars in the observable universe.'
The prediction is that by 2025, the amount of data generated each day will reach 463 exabytes globally: 1 exabyte = 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 bytes
What has this all got to do with Industry 4.0, 5.0, and beyond? A lot, as it turns out. Citing trends from the last 7 years, Joshua believes that as a civilisation we are now living in a digital era with society showing a marked and rapidly growing interest in everything digital. From the huge increase in Google searches for everything from IoT and digital twin to the adoption of digital currencies, it’s clear that a societal shift is underway.
In a breakdown of the industrial revolutions so far Lynne points out the differences between industry 4.0, which is still in progress, and the future, industry 5.0, which will 'focus on being human-centric where robots are working together with or intertwined with the human brain and working as collaborators instead of competitors.'
Of course, no discussion of the future can omit what is becoming a core strategy for many companies – environmental sustainability. Sustainability is no longer seen as an optional extra or something that can be ignored. To this end, a lot of thought is already going into how developing industrial trends can contribute to meeting environmental sustainability goals. One article, cited by Lynne, suggests that ‘using digital capabilities, track and trace, advanced modelling, digital twins, et cetera, can really help companies execute on their commitment to sustainability.’ There is also evidence that this is already happening, as we can see in this Forbes article about how, in 2021, a digital twin helped the city of San Francisco identify poor air quality hot spots and create a plan for change.
Back to that data we generate; how much of it do we actually analyse and use? Well, not a whole lot.
According to the IDC (International Data Corporation), of all the huge volumes of data created in 2020 – largely driven by Covid -19 lockdowns and associated changes in work, education, and modes of socialising– less than 2% was saved and retained into 2021.
Ragu puts it this way, ‘We are sitting on 44 zettabytes of data, more than twice the amount needed to write the entire human history.’
Why does it matter? Well for one, let’s consider the digital twin, adoption of which is already underway as mentioned previously. Based on Ragu’s explanation, you can build a digital twin of, for instance, a factory, then use that twin to simulate changes, use AI/ML to process the huge volumes of data generated by the digitally connected physical systems in the factory (ERP systems, MES systems, SCADA systems, etc) and optimise for any potential issues before implementing the changes in the physical factory, all without interrupting the production line.
To take that a step further you would build predictive capacity into the model. For that you’re going to need access to some of that 44-zettabyte data mountain to train the AI/ML and feed the results into the supply chain.
Now think back to 2020 at the beginning of the Covid -19 pandemic and what that would have meant for a toilet paper manufacturer, their retail partners, and you!
We have the ideas for how the vast amounts of data that we generate could transform our lives in terms of sustainability, efficiency, supply chain, etc, but just how willing are we to give up/ share our data? This is the big challenge: data security, just one of the reasons why 99% of the data collected remains unutilised.
What’s it going to take for the promise of seamless ubiquitous computing to allay fears around the breakdown in data security and total erosion of privacy? As individuals, just how much of our privacy are we willing to give away in exchange for the convenience of highly personalised services? What about businesses’ ability to secure and protect their interests and remain competitive?
But then again, who wants to see a repeat of the supply chain and service delivery issues that occurred during the pandemic? Covid -19 has been an accelerator of progress, with countries in the European Union, Lynne tells us, coming to the conclusion that ‘following on from Covid the concepts that define 5.0 could not come at a better time’. She goes on to say that there is a notable post-covid shift in the focus of many European companies which are ‘reinventing themselves, adapting themselves to a new Covid reality, which will embrace digital and green technologies.’
Ragu’s hopeful prediction is that in the next few years we will begin to ‘break down some of the information silos so that the different players within the ecosystem can validate and feed the information into the digital twins.’
Challenges and innovation often go hand in hand, and the next decade certainly looks set to deliver on both – are you ready?
For more fascinating insights into developing trends as we progress through industry 4.0 towards 5.0 and beyond, click here to log in/sign up and listen to the full webinar which also includes a Q & A session with the audience.