The concept of Industry 4.0 was coined in Germany in 2011 and since then it has been maturing and enriching itself in technologies and applications. Initially and almost until the end of the last decade, a good part of the projects where these technologies were applied ended up in prototypes and pilots that served to demonstrate their potential, but the solutions were not yet mature enough to be industrialized.
Now the situation has changed. Although there is still a long way to go, there are already solutions on the market based on technologies such as advanced robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial vision ready for companies to incorporate them.
This is confirmed by data from ACCIÓ, the agency for the competitiveness of Catalan companies, which in 2021 identified 1,111 companies in Catalonia that provide technologies in the field of Industry 4.0, three times more than 5 years ago.
Even so, it is essential to invest more in innovation to increase the percentage of these technologies that are developed and produced in Catalonia. Europe is lacking in its own technological offer and this makes our industry weaker compared to competitors from other regions of the planet.
For this reason, the European Commission and the Government have defined strategies to improve our technological sovereignty and reduce dependence on other economies. Thus, for example, the Spanish GAIA-X node was set up a few months ago, a European initiative that aims to create a single European data space, with all its implications and derivatives.
In the coming years, we will see how digital twins are consolidated
Industry 4.0 is key to competitiveness and makes it easier for companies to maintain factories in our territory, as well as favoring relocation. Apart from the positive impact that it entails in terms of employment, the pandemic has taught us the importance of having production centers nearby to ensure the supply of goods.
But not all companies are taking advantage of it and it is necessary to do everything possible so that SMEs that still have a low degree of digital maturity start the transformation process to reverse this situation. Initiatives of the Generalitat such as the Industry 4.0 Coupons, to which 85 companies from Tarragona have already joined, or the DIH4CAT can be a good incentive for Catalan SMEs to begin, hand in hand with experts, the transition towards Industry 4.0.
These grants are intended to finance the implementation of digital transformation plans or small tests to validate whether certain technologies can be useful for their processes or products before investing.
But technology and business models continue to evolve. In the next few years, we will see how the digital twins (digital replicas of real elements) that are still not very mature will be consolidated.
At the recent Industry 4.0 Congress held within the framework of the Advanced Factories Fair in Barcelona, the impact of new concepts, such as cognitive intelligence, manufacturing-as-a-service and the metaverse, on production processes was discussed. These are advances that will surely also be present at the end of May at the Hannover Messe, the I4.0 fair par excellence.
And in this vision of the future, we must bear in mind that the European Commission is promoting the concept of Industry 5.0, its particular vision of where industry should go. The EC does not want Industry 4.0 to simply consist of doing the same thing as before (producing as much as we can based strictly on economic benefit criteria) but in a more efficient way.
The concept of Industry 5.0 provides a different approach in which the industry puts the worker at the center, is much more sustainable and resilient, and is a source of well-being for society. In this sense, aspects related to sustainability such as eco-design, reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, circularity and the use of sustainable materials will become much more relevant.
Aspects such as the training of workers and the adaptation of technologies such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence to workers, in order to help empower them and improve their working conditions and well-being, will also be key.
This green and digital transition is accompanied by many opportunities, but to take advantage of them, companies need to continuously innovate in their processes, products and business models.
Jordi Palmiola Creus, head of Industry 4.0 at the Eurecat technology center.