MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRY 4.0: A COMBINATION THAT HARNESSES THE FULL POTENTIAL OF THE GROWING IOT FOR SMALL, MEDIUM, AND LARGE ITALIAN COMPANIES
Smart Manufacturing relies on several technologies that have become the mainstays of the Industry 4.0 revolution. IoT devices and applications help improve plant management and optimise production processes, monitor energy resources, and improve the connection between all players inside and outside the production chain, which is rendered more valuable. This winning formula is coupled with several technologies that accompany traditional models, with the support of intelligent objects, ensuring the full integration of hardware and software: Machine Learning, Cloud, Cyber-Physical Systems, and Robotica.
From the monitoring of safety to the traceability of processes, the development of new products, and everything that revolves around the world of facility management, industrial IoT applications provide constant access to a critical pool of information. Businesses can use this data to identify inefficiencies, monitor consumption, predict future needs, and plan automated activities, reducing lead times and costs as a result.
The technology spans several areas, including agriculture, by monitoring microclimatic parameters, reducing environmental impact, and automatically managing plants and building systems. The IoT can also be used to create Smart Factories through the adoption of methods that allow physical objects and digital representations to communicate – such as Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) – and the use of Smart Logistics and smart electricity grids. Moreover, this technological advancement mans that a new logic of production management and supply chain planning can be adopted, as well as a Smart Lifecycle through the improved life-cycle management of new products. Finally, the IoT can help collect and analyse key data for the public healthcare sector, domotics, and everything related to the Smart Cities of the present and future.
The IoT and Industry 4.0. Italy and the international context
According to data collected by the Internet of Things Observatory and presented in a report released in April 2022, 2021 was an important year of recovery for the IoT in Italy. The market reached EUR 7.3 billion (+22% compared to 2020; above pre-Covid levels: 6.2 billion in 2019). Along with the market, IoT solutions offering new valuable services are also growing thanks to the swathes of data collected from connected objects. As a result, the value of services has increased to EUR 3 billion, around 40% of the overall IoT market (+25%
compared to 2020).
The Observatory collaborated with the Politecnico di Milano to survey large Italian companies and SMEs. It found that as many as 80% of large companies have started providing value-added services based on the Internet of Things (+4% compared to 2020).
In addition, 40% of SMEs – less inclined to adopt new technologies – have decided to increase their investments in this area. Therefore, alongside the market, companies, private individuals, and the public sector are becoming increasingly aware of the need to adopt new strategies and business models based on the potential of IoT to make industrial processes safer and more efficient.
The Observatory also highlighted the most promising IoT communication standards and protocols: from developments in the deployment of 5G technology to the Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA), SigFox, and LoRaWAN networks.
This scenario is backed up by the Anitec-Assinform report entitled Il Digitale in Italia 2022. The report describes how Italy’s IoT market is evolving and growing quickly, driven by the cross-cutting use of proximity technologies to meet strategic objectives in various market contexts linked to the NRRP.
Significant investments in Industry 4.0 will see these new technologies – crucial for enhancing perimeter security, cybersecurity, and OT (Operational Technology) security – applied to the Smart Factory segment. Quality control systems, field systems, and collaborative robots are all expected to be implemented, in addition to predictive maintenance projects, through the implementation of IoT systems to reduce repair costs and
potential stoppages to production activities due to unforeseen failures. Digital Twins also play an importable role in solving common problems well in advance of product market releases, reducing product defects and production costs, shortening time-to-market, and saving time and money on simulations.
The use of this technology is also picking up speed outside of Italy. In 2015, a World Economic Forum survey of 250 market leaders found that 88% did not fully understand the business models and long-term implications of industrial IoT for their sectors. By 2019, IoT Analytics demonstrated that a change was already underway, with 25% of IoT solutions implemented in enterprise scenarios. According to a recent survey conducted in 2022, as many as 72% of entrepreneurs and decision-makers interviewed said they were planning to embrace IoT initiatives and investments at their companies. As things stand, companies without an Industry 4.0 strategy are now in the minority.
More wide-reaching analysis confirms the reasons why an increasing number of players are realising the potential of the IoT: technological developments (namely increasingly powerful chipsets),
the widespread adoption of Cloud services, the containerisation of software, the development of increasingly sophisticated middleware tools and open interfaces (Edge Computing), the continuous improvement of communication standards and protocols, and the growing availability of Artificial Intelligence models and libraries.
Questo scenario viene confermato anche dai dati riportati nel rapporto Anitec-Assinform Il Digitale in Italia 2022, che delineano uno scenario evolutivo di intensa crescita per il mercato IoT in Italia, spinta anche dalle aree di applicazione trasversali delle tecnologie di prossimità per il raggiungimento degli obiettivi strategici nei vari contesti di mercato all’interno del PNRR.
I principali investimenti in ambito Industry 4.0 vedranno l’applicazione di queste nuove tecnologie cruciali per il potenziamento della sicurezza perimetrale e Cybersecurity, OT (Operational Technology) Security, nell’area Smart Factory con l’implementazione di sistemi di controllo della qualità, sistemi di campo e collaborative robot e i progetti di manutenzione predittiva attraverso l’implementazione di sistemi IoT, finalizzati a ottenere risparmi nei costi di riparazione oltre a
ridurre i possibili blocchi nell’attività produttiva per effetto di guasti non previsti. Anche i Digital Twins rappresentano un fattore importante nel risolvere problemi comuni con largo anticipo rispetto ai prodotti rilasciati sul mercato, ridurre i difetti dei prodotti e i costi di produzione, accorciare il time-to-market, risparmiando tempo e denaro nelle simulazioni.
Uno scenario, questo, che trova conferme anche sul piano internazionale: se nel 2015 un’indagine del World Economic Forum su 250 leader di mercato rilevava che l’88% non comprendeva appieno i modelli di business e le implicazioni a lungo termine dell’IoT industriale per i propri settori, già nel 2019 IoT Analytics mostra un cambiamento in corso, con un buon 25% di soluzioni IoT implementate nelle imprese. Secondo un recente sondaggio del 2022 ben il 72% degli imprenditori e dei decision maker intervistati hanno dichiarato di avere in previsione l’implementazione di iniziative e investimenti IoT per la propria azienda. Ad oggi, le imprese che non hanno in programma una strategia Industry 4.0 possono considerarsi quindi in minoranza.
Le analisi sul piano globale confermano anche le motivazioni che spingono sempre più soggetti a comprendere le potenzialità IoT: in primo luogo l’avanzamento tecnologico – chipset sempre più potenti,
l’adozione diffusa dei servizi Cloud, la containerizzazione del software, lo sviluppo di strumenti middleware sempre più sofisticati e di interfacce aperte (Edge Computing), il continuo miglioramento di standard e protocolli di comunicazione e la crescente disponibilità di modelli e librerie di Intelligenza Artificiale.