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2020 Year in Review: Industry 4.0

Lux Research Digital Team
February 18, 2021

Digital technologies hold enormous potential to transform industrial environments, from manufacturing to field operations to supply chain and beyond. As sensors and connectivity become ubiquitous and analytics capabilities take enormous strides forward, industrial operations are seeing increased efficiency, improved safety, and reduced risk. Savvy industrial companies have already embraced Industry 4.0, though success is a long and challenging journey.

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In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the potential for digital tools to enable remote work and safer work in industrial environments. Worker monitoring solutions found traction for reducing exposure risk, remote expert tools like augmented reality enabled key workers to stay home, and vendors offered solutions for free – all of which lowered the barriers for these tools and accelerated their adoption. Robotics, on the other hand, is a long-term solution rather than something that can immediately relieve the pain of the pandemic, but it still saw strong investor interest through 2020. Further, the supply chain disruptions and unpredictable demand shifts caused by the pandemic demonstrated the importance of flexibility in manufacturing and supply chain planning – a space where many vendors of predictive analytics and asset tracking solutions are focused. Ultimately, COVID-19 will prove to be an accelerator for Industry 4.0 worldwide.

In this blog, we take a look back at some of the most important developments that occurred in our digital transformation team's coverage of Industry 4.0.

Intelligent O&M

  • Federated Wireless began offering private 5G networks as a service through a simple ordering interface, contracting out to third-party equipment and network providers to construct and manage the network.

  • Microsoft acquired industrial cybersecurity startup CyberX, which provides device visibility, anomaly detection, and forensics for industrial IoT. Given Microsoft Azure's dominant position among industrial cloud deployments, this is a threat to highly successful industrial cybersecurity competitors like Nozomi and Claroty.

  • Planet Labs expanded its satellite constellation and improved spatial and temporal resolution for its satellite imaging services. This involved a partnership with SpaceX for launching new satellites at low cost.

  • Aveva acquired OSIsoft for $5 billion, an example of the integration of horizontal industrial analytics platforms with application-specific solutions.

  • Omron developed an AI-based defect detection technology to augment its automated inspection capabilities. The resultant scratch detection filter requires no special hardware or data science expertise.

Augmenting & automating the workforce

  • Geek+, an autonomous mobile robot developer, expanded to the U.S. market from its leading position in Asia-Pacific, following a massive funding raise in 2019 and an impressive track record of warehouse automation projects.

  • Facebook, in partnership with ULC Robotics, developed a crawling robot with high levels of autonomy for wrapping fiber cable around medium-voltage power lines in order to streamline fiber deployment.

  • Parsable raised $60 million in funding for its connected worker platform for industrial environments. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Parsable offered its tools at no cost for ensuring and validating worker safety – an approach that several other companies enabling remote work or worker safety have also taken.

  • Shell decided to expand its drone-based methane inspection program to more than 500 sites after a successful two-year pilot. The solution uses DJI drones equipped with an optical gas imaging camera and is provided by inspection services company Avitas Systems.

  • Percepto raised $45 million to scale its Autonomous Inspection & Monitoring solution, which combines drones and ground-based robots. The company also integrated with Boston Dynamics' Spot robot, expanding its capabilities for low-elevation assets.

Smart & connected product strategy

  • Systech Solutions, a provider of serialization, traceability, and anti-counterfeiting solutions, was acquired by diversified manufacturer Dover Corporation. Systech uses computer vision to create a unique fingerprint for individual products by reading the minute variations in bar code features created by inconsistent printing.

  • Accedian, New Context, and Savari formed a partnership to establish integration among their smart city products, bringing together IoT analytics, infrastructure cybersecurity, and V2X capabilities.

  • Augury, a predictive maintenance provider, launched an insurance-backed business model in partnership with insurer HSB. Under this new model, Augury's customers receive a payout if the solution fails to detect an issue that results in equipment downtime.

Additionally, the Lux Digital Team curated the following “Analysts’ Choice” content for further reading on Industry 4.0.

  • Why do we fail? The vast majority of digital transformation efforts – Industry 4.0 and others – don't succeed in their goals. Occasionally, technology is to blame, but more commonly, strategy and execution challenges, such as muddy strategic visions, poor project management, and skills shortages, get in the way. This report discusses the varied reasons for digital failures and best practices to avoid them.

  • Innovating remote connectivity. Use cases for remote connectivity are evolving from simple monitoring to real-time analysis for complex AI models, and data feeds are increasing exponentially due to IoT. New technologies like 5G and edge computing will enable greater efficiency for complex use cases, but old standbys like LPWAN and satellite will continue to be good choices in some applications.

  • The digital transformation of field service. While field service lags behind many other spaces, there is tremendous potential for digital transformation in these functions. Some steps, such as scheduling and billing, are far ahead in adoption of digital tools and are excellent short-term opportunities, whereas performing service and maintenance tasks has high potential but low adoption to date.

  • Dow leverages robotics platforms to improve worker safety. Dow Chemical's robotics program is nearly a decade old, and today, the company uses remotely controlled drones and robots for inspection, elevated work, and industrial cleaning, removing workers from some of the most hazardous jobs in a chemicals facility. While the company's robotics applications are not the most technologically advanced we've seen, Dow's approach is a model to follow for building and scaling robotics in a sensible way.

  • Worker monitoring. Industrial worker monitoring has become all the more important during the COVID-19 crisis, and we've seen a spike in interest in technologies that can monitor worker health, location, and other factors toward ensuring a safe working environment.

This blog is part of the Lux Digital Team's Year in Review series examining the highlights and key developments in digital transformation in 2020. For an overview of the other storylines in Digital Transformation of Physical Industries, be sure to subscribe to our digital newsletter.

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