The transformative impact of digital technologies on the industrial sector has garnered less attention than the explosive growth of the consumer internet.

Various players across mining, oil & gas, manufacturing and logistics sectors have embraced the power of software and communications technology to improve the monitoring and performance of industrial equipment. Vendors have also made significant investments to introduce digital technologies to their product offerings, but as we reported earlier this week, the industrial giants like GE are still struggling to find and adapt to new business models.

Looking ahead, analysts argue emerging technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) will help unlock further benefits to industrial businesses.

R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research says, AI plays a key role in the industrial sector particularly in applying machine learning to optimise the performance and utilisation of plants. “It also has a predictive role in identifying mitigating, and predicting risks and failures,” Wang told Which-50.

Wang also noted, “Mixed reality or AR/VR is useful in improving field service and maintenance opportunities.”

In term of improved connectivity, Wang predicts the rollout of 5G will benefit asset-intensive industries.

“[It will] play a key role as multiplexing capabilities enable richer signalling and edge computing will play a role in moving some computers to remote end points to lower the bandwidth issues,” he said.

Kevin Block, CTO at Cisco ANZ, also noted edge computing is a key technology for the industrial sector.

He explains, “Many industrial applications often cannot leverage the cloud like commercial ones, either because they require fast response times or the cost of bandwidth backhaul is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, processing is done ‘at the edge’ ie in the factory, on the oil rig or in the truck and some data never gets to the cloud.”

But cloud remains a foundational technology, enabling large amounts of data to be captured, stored and processed.

“The ability to share data globally will be key, and with the cloud foundation, then use case applications can be built on that, enabling sensor data to analysed for predictive analytics to address issues such as predictive maintenance and customer demand,” said Chris Holmes, managing director of IDC Insights Asia Pacific.

Holmes argues the value is not prescribed to individual technologies but how they work together to deliver outcomes or use cases to the industrial customer.

He says building on core foundational technologies such as cloud, mobile, analytics, and social, with “innovation accelerators” such as AR, VR, IoT, cognitive systems, robotics, 3d printing — all supported by next generation security — will provide further benefits.

The biggest area for impact when putting all these technologies together, Holmes argues, will be digital twins.

“Digital twins, or virtual representations, can be used to manage multiple aspects of a manufacturing business, including highly complex, customised products, and connected assets, such as manufacturing plants or facilities and the assets within them,” he said. 

“Essentially, digital twins are the extended application of simulation and visualisation throughout a digitally transformed organisation, for better communication and collaboration.

“At their most base level, digital twins use 3D models and CAE (simulation software) to create a full, living, digital model of a product and its associated manufacturing processes, or assets, and their related environment.”

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