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The statistics are encouraging, the technologies continue to evolve, and new spaces are beginning to open up for people looking to take advantage of the industrial sector. This continuous progress is what the digital transformation and Industrie 4.0 brings to the table. With continuous progress comes rapid innovation in hardware design and safety features, as well as the development of industrial software. But what happens when the innovation curve flattens?
The future of innovative design and safety in the industrial sector
By 2025, there will be 75 billion interconnected networks across the globe and billions of IoT hardware devices deployed to optimize processes. The 5G network will have been stabilized to deliver its multiple benefits. A decade ago, these numbers were unthinkable and 4G had been developed predominantly for mobile use.
Within 10 years, the drive for technology unification – championed by the OPC Foundation with its OPC UA pub/sub over TSN standards – and the increasing stability of edge computing has led to the increased adoption rate of digital transformation technologies. With unification came a level playing field for innovators to explore.
Today, the tech community and traditional industrial hardware manufacturers continuously develop innovative solutions to enable the capture and analysis of factory-floor data. The provision of diverse options for implementing digital transformation initiatives has ensured that industrial enterprises can get the solutions they require at a more affordable price.
The role of stakeholders in the industrial sector in enhancing the deployment of digital transformation also cannot be overlooked. Industrial enterprises have realized the huge potential behind the data they collect and how it can be properly analyzed to improve shop-floor safety, enable automation and remote monitoring, and increase revenues. The benefits of a digital industrial space far outweigh the old way of doing things, and this has led to the increased adoption rate that we currently see.
As with all great technological strides, large-scale innovation generally flattens out in a few decades. The mobile device manufacturing industry is one excellent example that highlights how the innovative curve flattens along with its effect on both the enterprises and the end user. In the early days, mobile devices featured buttons until Apple’s touch screen changed the landscape. Since the innovation of the touchscreen, less impactful advances such as voice features have been the highlight of the industry.
Today, the average smartphone is generally a touchscreen device with similar features to the next. The major differences to be found within the smartphone market are in aesthetics, design, and pricing. Just like the smartphone industry, the innovative effort within the digital manufacturing space will flatten out. It will occur when web-based HMIs become more mainstream, innovative hardware that can withstand the harsh environment of the factory floor for years are developed, and edge solutions are mature enough to take on factory-floor data without human interference.
The maturity of Industrie 4.0 implementation tools will bring the expected innovation flattening, but with that comes major gains to both vendors selling solutions and the industrial enterprises using them.
What will the market compete on?
Drawing parallels from the smartphone industry, the market for industrial digital technologies is expected to compete on optimized designs, safety, and durability features of hardware devices. At the software end, the development of more intuitive applications with multiple functions will be the basis for market growth and competition between vendors.
Starting with design and safety, the need for more durable, user-friendly hardware will provide grounds for vendors to explore new ideas and establish their brand names. This development, however, will reduce large-scale innovations. Over time, it is expected that a few brands will be differentiated by the design, ease of use, and durability of the hardware products they manufacture.
Although aesthetics will play an important role in the end user's choice, durability is expected to be the major defining factor for industrial enterprises due to the nature of the working environments in industrial facilities. An IoT hardware device that works optimally for 5 years is more likely to be purchased than one with a more captivating interface which tends to break down bi-monthly.
Software developers will compete on providing custom-made industrial software that simplifies the task of gaining insight into big data sets. Software solutions that offer additional value-based services to simplify automated processes are likely to be more popular than the average data analysis software application.
For end users, the influx of major vendors and tech firms to the industrial sector will prove to be very beneficial as many solutions providers will lower the cost of purchasing specific solutions to appeal to a larger customer base and beat the competition. The cost of implementing digital transformation strategies will drastically reduce in the future and enterprises will have a plethora of technology options to choose from.
A flattening of the innovation curve does not mean an end to the process of completing industrial automation. The flattened curve simply means solutions providers will have to compete on design and safety features, aesthetics, pricing, and durability. The expected competition will be beneficial to industrial enterprises which seize on the diverse solutions available for a more affordable digital transformation implementation.