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Industry 4.0 usage matures across industrial campuses

Nokia and ABI Research announce results of study highlighting the progress and plans for enterprise infrastructure investments in several key sectors made over the past year

Breakthroughs in communications technologies, in particular 5G networks, have opened up open whole new vistas in terms of the possibilities of design and manufacturing, ushering in the age of Industry 4.0.

A study from Nokia and ABI Research has shown the growing pace of Industry 4.0 readiness in industrial campuses within seven sectors, as enterprise infrastructure investments increase.

The Industry 4.0 maturity index offered insights from a survey of IT and operational technology (OT) leaders at 500 industrial and manufacturing (I&M) firms from key industrial segments, including chemical, fabricated metals, heavy machinery, mining, petroleum, and ports and logistics.

The survey was taken in the first quarter of 2023 and respondents were working in one of the vertical markets and located in the US, Japan, France, Germany and the UK. All respondents were involved in either devising the overall strategy, programme design or on-site implementation of digital transformation projects at their company’s facilities.

The study looked at the alignment of investments in IT infrastructure and the deployment of use cases underpinned by digital technologies, along with the barriers to accelerating digital transformation. Nokia and ABI said the index would allow enterprises to benchmark their digitisation progress on the path toward the industrial metaverse.

The survey highlighted the fact that I&M firms are under scrutiny from regulators like never before, both from an operational compliance and an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective. In addition, such firms are attempting to navigate complex and sometimes volatile operating environments. For these reasons, digital transformation was found to no longer be the preserve of technology teams, but part of I&M firms’ corporate strategies.

But the survey also showed that there was no smooth path to adoption. I&M firms reported that a lack of internal expertise or alignment between IT and OT perspectives was holding back or preventing progress. The nine segments of the index showed where plans could go awry, noting that upgrades to IT infrastructure should be synchronised with the use cases being deployed.

The survey suggested that additional use cases would place an extra load on the IT infrastructure, risking poor performance, and that conversely, spare IT capacity could waste scarce budgets.

The study also showed that I&M firms were rolling out 4G and 5G networks, and many had already made investments in Wi-Fi across their facilities. They have also been scaling cloud applications and supporting remote workers with mobile devices.

Plotting the results of I&M firms’ investments and use case deployments through the matrix revealed manufacturers of electronics and appliances led the way, with investments in private 5G and edge compute able to support their data strategies. Meanwhile, investments in campus networks and private 4G were enabling producers of fabricated metals to control their equipment and operations.

These investments, said the research, would enable the firms to meet their customers’ needs and their sustainability goals.

Another finding was that alignment between IT and OT teams at petroleum producers would help the firms monitor their emissions and use drones to maintain safety levels.

Chemical producers were using data to adhere to regulations, support customers and optimise their workforce, while operators of ports and logistics firms were behind other verticals with regard to deploying use cases, such as automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots, and needed to take advantage of their IT infrastructure.

Production issues were seen as triggering mining firms to consider investing in digital transformation, and the study advised that digitising their equipment should be a priority, underpinning efforts to monitor emissions.

Commenting on the findings, Michael Larner, research director at ABI Research, said: “We are seeing a market trend for adopting private 5G in an end-to-end approach. For a successful transformation, the need to align IT and operational technology is clear. IT departments will continue to play an important role in digital transformation, using IT to support the delivery of OT in the most efficient way.” 

Stephan Litjens, vice-president of enterprise campus edge business at Nokia, added: “As the global leader in private wireless and industrial edge across an array of industry sectors, we want to simplify and accelerate digital transformation for industries.

“The Industry 4.0 maturity index and self-assessment tool help industrial campuses to understand where they are and how to progress. We see investments scaling up this year, and this is confirmed by this research, which shows industries are, on average, moving closer to aligning IT and OT.” 

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