Preparing for Industry 4.0? These 5 challenges should inform your plan.

CIOs in the manufacturing sector understand the value of digital transformation to be delivered by Industry 4.0 and IoT. It holds the promise to reduce the cost of operations, minimize downtime, improve equipment maintenance, synchronize inventory management, and more efficiently streamline operations.

However, before the promise of Industry 4.0 can be realized, enterprises will need to manage these five key challenges.

1. Ensuring dependable connectivity

Communications is a key component of Industry 4.0 as it provides powerful and pervasive connectivity between people, equipment, and devices. Whether on a production line or in an automated warehouse, it’s critical that operations run smoothly and flawlessly for every component at every station. Dependable, reliable, and available connectivity will be non-negotiable, and critical in handling the proliferation of mobile and connected devices required in IoT environments such as manufacturing and supply chain operations.



forecasted CAGR through 2030 for the number of wireless connections in factories

In the years ahead, it’s expected that wireless solutions such as cellular, Low-Powered WANs, and Wi-Fi will increase in importance for IoT applications. ABI Research forecasts a CAGR of 55% through 2030 for the number of wireless connections in factories.

While 4G/LTE options are currently available, companies must prepare to transition to 5G as it will one day enable many new capabilities delivered through Industry 4.0 applications such as more flexibility in production, support for advanced mobile applications for workers, and collaboration for mobile robots and autonomous devices and vehicles in a warehouse or production floor. On the horizon, 5G will be essential in supporting enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC).

2. Maintaining safety

For industrial enterprises, maintaining a safe workplace is paramount due to the risk of injury to personnel, as well as due to potential environmental concerns. Minimizing these risks to acceptable levels is mandatory. IoT devices could assist by monitoring metrics in real-time and by alerting personnel when critical thresholds are reached so that potential issues can be addressed before an incident occurs.

Imagine vibration sensors strategically placed on fuel pumps at an energy processing plant that could trigger an alert should vibrations from a faulty valve exceed pre-determined levels. Monitoring and acting on this information could help mitigate a catastrophic event such as a fire or explosion caused by a fuel pump leak.

Connecting sensors to a 5G network within an industrial automation site to track the health of critical equipment is one future option for maintaining adequate safety levels. Enterprises will need to review current IoT architectures and develop a clear safety policy that aligns with their industrial applications when they are run by 5G.

3. Preserving security

Since industrial automation has traditionally relied on wired communication to transmit information, security threats have been minimal. However, with the shift to wireless connectivity needed for Industry 4.0, the potential risk from both localized and external attacks significantly increases. As more IoT devices connect across wireless networks, they will increasingly become security targets.

This doesn’t imply that the movement to connected wireless automation should be avoided. But it does mean that enterprises must account for, and manage against, new types of threats and attacks against their infrastructure. Preventive measures such as device authentication, data confidentiality, and data integrity will be crucial for industrial communication systems and in M2M environments where data checks will be required to prevent machine failures. In these situations, enterprises will need to enhance security architectures to support the needs of connected industrial applications.

Since it provides end-to-end security, 5G can offer increased secure support for IoT development. 5G will deliver mutual authentication and data encryption between devices and the network. 5G also supports a flexible authentication framework with the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) and strong encryption, while following strict latency requirements.

4. Promoting efficiency

One way that companies are addressing this is through edge computing where software-based solutions supported by local data center services can more quickly respond to changing conditions and apply them to industrial applications. Edge intelligence is enabled when paired with Artificial Intelligence and supported by training and cloud technology. The 5G era promises to deliver faster speeds and lower latency to support the edge computing applications deployed in connected industrial environments. 


5. Expanding to scale

Perhaps the most pressing challenge for Industry 4.0 is the ability for enterprises to grow beyond test pilots. Industry 4.0 models start with securing executive sponsorship, as well as defining roles and accountabilities for the business unit, IT, and Operations. They then identify the appropriate use cases to demonstrate technologies capability and impacts within test environments. These steps are relatively straightforward. The more pressing challenge is getting pilot tests to converge to scale due in large part to the complexities involved in gaining alignment among key stakeholders and managing issues – particularly those relating to Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) teams. 

Developing an IoT Game Plan

Success in Industry 4.0 requires both an acknowledgement of these challenges inherent to test pilots as well as a well-structured “game plan” to address challenges inherent to these types of deployments. A number of factors should be included in that game plan, including:

  • An understanding of the potential IoT value chain
  • Identification of the gaps that need to be filled
  • Prioritization of the business case that clearly outlines targets and goals such as cost reduction of outputs
  • Assessment of plant and facility maturity in terms of equipment
  • A detailed ROI review – particularly with respect to plant-level investments (sensors, connectivity, edge devices) vs. broad-based IoT architecture (platform, cloud, application layers)
  • An analysis of the cost of inaction such as the cost implications due to unexpected equipment downtime if future IoT efforts are delayed or not pursued; in addition, competitors aren’t standing still, and companies can be placed at a competitive disadvantage if potential IoT initiatives are delayed or shelved
  • Assessment of the vendor ecosystems including network providers

Finally, partnering with a reputable IoT expert can assist in the development of a strategic approach that most efficiently helps navigate the unique technology challenges posed by Industry 4.0 as new processes and compatible devices become available.

In addition to offering America’s largest 5G network with the coverage and bandwidth to keep your employees connected, T-Mobile for Business works with an ever-growing ecosystem of industry-leading IoT innovators to build, scale, and support breakthrough business solutions.

To explore how the 5G future can fuel your IoT aspirations, contact us today.

Want even more trends, insights, and success stories?