Is Industry 5.0 already here?

Is Industry 5.0 coming in the next eight years — or is it here already? Depending on who you talk to, you will probably get a different response. The huge amount of buzz surrounding the term is only equaled by the lack of consensus about what the next stage of industry will look like (as one expert put it to us, “There are many Industry 5.0s”). So how will the next stage of industry be different to Industry 4.0, how will Industry 5.0 shape manufacturing and our ways of working and what role will IoT have to play in the Industry 5.0 revolution?

All pertinent questions, and ones we put to two experts: Marina Ruggieri, a professor of telecommunications engineering at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” and former vice president of technical activities at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Vural Özdemir, systems scientist, physician, and researcher-writer on the democratization of emerging technology and innovation in digital health, based in Toronto, Canada.

More human-centric

One of the biggest differences between Industry 4.0 and 5.0 is the role humans play — while Industry 4.0 already featured elements of collaboration between humans and robots, Industry 5.0 builds on that collaboration and becomes more human-centric. As Sigga Technologies puts it in their blog “Perhaps the greatest learning from the 4.0 era was the understanding that technology alone does nothing. Machines depend on operators, programmers and maintenance. Not everything can be automated.” 

Professor Marina Ruggieri

Marina uses the example of a technology worker working alongside a robot for how collaboration might improve. The worker would no longer have to key in data into a PC, evaluate how to improve her performance, run another algorithm, input some more data. Instead the worker could simply let the robot know that she wanted to automate some of the stocking and distribution of packages and the worker would no longer have to input data (“Why are you using a PC? I’m your connectivity node, you don’t need to type that information in.”) and could simply work alongside the robot to resolve the issue. She notes that the human element is still important here – data in and of itself doesn’t have inherent value. It is a human interpretation of data, after all, which leads to knowledge.

Industry 4.0: the origin story

Vural observes that when the term “Industry 4.0” was coined at the Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011, “the key innovation narrative was Infinite Growth (IG) and extreme automation and digital connectivity (e.g., connect until everything is connected to everything else). For Industry 5.0, the innovation narrative is about living within the planetary boundaries while seeking digital connectivity and automation.”

Vural cites incidents like the Wannacry malware infection in 2017, which temporarily brought down the British healthcare system’s computer network, as evidence that extreme digital connectivity can lead to disadvantages.

Vural Özdemir

“Consider another example: an Autobahn, a well integrated set of highways,  in Germany. What happens if a fire breaks out in the Autobahn, not in the car but on a segment of the highway? We need an exit from extreme integration and connectivity, and from the Autobahn. In the case of extreme digital, or any sort of connectivity, we need to maintain the analogue world as an exit plan and for contextual sense making, and also bearing in mind that extreme connectivity and integration may pave the way for adverse domino effects and systems scale collapse if no exit (from extreme connectivity) is in place as part of the innovation system design.”

Enough is as good as a feast

Under Industry 5.0, Vural believes there will be a more measured approach to connectivity – digital connectivity will be mirrored by connectivity in the physical world and there will be a healthy upper limit placed on digital connectivity (so, for example, workplaces will complement Zoom meetings with their face-to-face counterpart). He adds “The famous adage “The dose makes the poison” credited to Paracelsus in the 16th century illustrates this basic principle, something to bear in mind as we design Industry 5.0 innovation systems with digital connectivity and automation. Anything in excess can be toxic.” 

When we think of connectivity, we may automatically think of IoT – after all, according to a report from the research firm Gartner in 2017 there were already over eight billion smart objects (excluding phones and computers). That’s more devices than people on the planet. So how will all of this affect IoT? According to Marina, we will progress from smart devices to intelligent ones.

“Intelligence means learning from our mistakes. An object can be neutral — you can check the temperature by looking at a thermometer and write the number on a piece of paper. Or it can be smart, so it sends the temperature to your PC or your smartphone. Or it can be intelligent – you can talk to the sensor, ask it for advice – you’ve cooked something and you’d like to leave it to rest for six hours on the side, so not in the fridge. Perhaps you would like to know if you can do this without the meal making you ill; what the temperature of the room is; what temperature the meal needs to stay fresh? The sensor would talk and interact with you and provide you with a solution. IoT is a collection of sensors that will become more like people.”

Vural believes the availability of sensors and pervasive wireless internet connectivity will lead to something very exciting and unprecedented — “the real-time, functional and dynamic mapping of not only factories and manufacturing but also all things, living or inanimate, with new IoT practices in manufacturing, smart hospitals and more recently, in retail and customer services, are more than a simple structural barcoding map. They promise a real-time display of all things on the planet, with its promises and challenges.” He suggests checking out Destination Earth for a taster of the future: this project aims to build a digital twin of planet Earth to prepare for future ecological crises.

Or are we headed towards superconnectivity after all?

In contrast to Vural, Marina argues that intelligent sensors and robots (as well as the public being increasingly comfortable with technology, thanks to the covid tracing apps and remote working introduced over the last year) will lead to an era of superconnectivity. While Vural has some reservations on possible negative impacts on society and planetary democracy, Marina believes intelligent sensors and robots could be to the benefit of the planet and that it might be used to predict and counterbalance any havoc wrought by further pandemics or by the increasingly extreme weather conditions the climate emergency might lead to. 

She explains that readiness is key, given the financial devastation wrought by the pandemic, and that it needs to be possible for robots to carry out work when conditions are too dangerous for humans to do so. “Industry should be really driven by a super committee made up of humans and AI-based robots that can help to drive flexibility.” However, like Vural, she believes connectivity should be sustainable and that there will be incentives, both financially and in terms of business opportunities (for example, access to competitions or contests) for companies who can prove they are driving down their pollution and considering broader impacts on planetary ecosystems.

How can Industry 5.0 help startups?

So what does all of this mean for the startup world? According to Vural, “Industry 5.0 and IoT can help startups deliver above their scale, and do so with creative flexibility, converting the weakness of their comparatively small size into strengths. Manufacturing, historically, had focused on mass production, but oftentimes, one size does not fit all in manufacturing. 

Because IoT is driven by networked sensors and digital connectivity, it is highly responsive to pressing local needs in different countries and communities. Startups can harness IoT to customize the manufacturing process in terms of scale, speed and the type of products manufactured.” He cites the example of custom manufacturing in the field of precision/personalized medicine. 

“Over the past decade, health care has been transforming from ‘one size fits all’ treatments to a new paradigm for ‘the right drug, at the right dose, for the right patient and the right time.’ This requires diagnostic tests to be custom manufactured in a population- or disease-specific manner, to create tailored medicines that are more effective and safer. Startups may want to consider custom manufacturing by IoT and Industry 5.0 in health care.”

The biggest question: when?

Marina believes that in some places, like her home country Italy, Industry 4.0 is not fully deployed yet and argues that according to expert opinion, Industry 5.0 is probably eight years away. However, she believes that the pandemic has worked to accelerate technology and as such, if we were experiencing adverse health or economic effects from the pandemic in the future, it’s possible that the urgency could fuel an earlier arrival of Industry 5.0 “say in the next two or three years.” 

In contrast, Vural believes we are already living in the era of 5.0 in terms of the IoT technology, but the IoT needs to be steered towards targets that best serve planetary ecosystems. He points out that the coining of Industry 4.0 was already ten years ago and that now people have already developed cobots – collaborative robots – and there is a growing interest in integrating human intelligence and societal dimension with IoT and Industry 5.0.

When I ask Marina for advice on embracing the new era, she suggests leaving fear behind. “Don’t be afraid – fear is your enemy when it comes to using technology. But technology is neutral, it’s not positive or negative. So we have to trust technology, both the kind that is coming into our home and also in the industry domain, 100%, completely. This will lead to the best generation of industry that we have ever seen.”

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