5G will keep industry on “even keel” – Bosch boosts Industry 4.0 sales and investment
German industrial giant Bosch restated its expectation to capitalise both ways on new industrial connectivity and analytics in the next years as it revealed a 25 percent jump in sales of its own Industry 4.0 solutions, and a new €500 million investment to procure Industry 4.0 solutions for its own manufacturing operations.
Bosch said it had generated sales of more than €750 million from connected solutions for manufacturing and logistics in 2019, up by around a quarter from €600 million in 2018. At the same time, it claimed a 25 percent jump in productivity at its own sites as a result of its Industry 4.0 investments.
Besides, the firm said it will invest €500 million in “comprehensively digitalising and adding connectivity” to its manufacturing operations over the next few years. It said the fund will drive twice the value in savings by 2025 – to the tune of “roughly €1 billion”. The investment will go on its powertrain division, it said, as it seeks to stay in line with higher pressure on costs and flexibility in the automotive industry.
Rolf Najork, member of the board, responsible for industrial technology, at Bosch brought the announcement around to the subject of connectivity, in a period of global crisis. He commented: “Especially in exceptional times, connectivity makes companies less vulnerable and helps them keep an even keel.”
The company has also debuted a software-based 5G-ready control technology, called ctrlX Automation, which supports 30-odd data protocols and seeks to release industrial automation data from siloed connectivity pipes. The new ctrlX Automation tool “marks an end to isolated solutions in factories,” it said; ctrlX Automation is open to third-party apps.
Bosch, an early champion of privately operated industrial 5G for manufacturing, was one of the first companies in Germany to confirm it has applied for localised spectrum licenses. The company is already running trials of private 5G campus networks at two sites, at least. It plans to deploy full 5G networks in its own spectrum during in 2020.
The company is seeking to mainline data in its products and factories, and apply advanced analytics to drive efficiencies in its business and environmental impact. By 2025, every product out of its 270 factories will either contain artificial intelligence (AI) or else have been developed or manufactured with the help of it, it has declared.
Najork said: “Connectivity is essential for any company that wants to stay competitive. Industry 4.0 is a historic opportunity, offering enormous potential. We are not only improving factory productivity, but also enabling companies to respond quickly and appropriately to changes.”
The company moved to highlight a couple of instances of AI in production, as it seeks to leverage industrial analytics for predictive maintenance, quality assurance, and production processes – for both its own operations, and as part of a portfolio of solutions for its customers.
It said its silicon manufacturing plant in Reutlingen in Baden-Württemberg is using AI for production scheduling to guide silicon wafers through more than 500 processing steps. “This alone means a five percent faster wafer throughput, with an investment payback time of just three months,” it said.
Even “small” investments in key machinery bring dividends, the company added. Its plant in Erbach spent €25,000 to equip its production lines with sensors and light barriers, and is saving €200,000 per year, it claimed. The biggest obstacle with Industry 4.0 for manufacturers is the capital expense, it said, quoting Germany’s digital industry association Bitkom.
A new poll by Bitkom says 60 percent of industrial companies in Germany with more than 100 staff already use Industry 4.0 applications, but that most deployments are “only piecemeal”. The VDMA, the German association of machinery makers, says 80 percent of the industrial machinery has yet to be connected.
Najork said: “There’s still a lot more we can do in manufacturing, and many points we can tweak and adjust. Our task now is to make Industry 4.0 the norm in all parts of the manufacturing sector.”
Bosch’s Industry 4.0 portfolio includes software packages for maintenance, monitoring, and logistics, robotics systems for manufacturing and transport, retrofit solutions for existing machinery, and assistance systems for machine operators.
The company restated its vision, as well, about a 5G-enabled factory-of-the-future, where every part of the production environment is fluid, except for the floors, walls, and ceilings. Industrial machines, devices, and vehicles will be made mobile by 5G connectivity, and made intelligent by edge and cloud based analytics.
It said: “The factory of the future constantly reinvents itself as needed. It is guided by a vision of a manufacturing set-up that can produce thousands of different products and variants, down to a batch size of one, without the need for expensive retrofitting.”