I’d never heard of Industry 5.0. As far as I knew, the next revolution in industry was industry 4.0, and that still in its early stages. So of course I googled Industry 5.0, and found what appears to be the first reference to the idea, back in April 2014, in a blog post from Robert Saracco, a director with EIT Digital, a company describing itself as “a European digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation driving Europe’s digital transformation.”
Saracco contemplated a future beyond Industry 4.0 saying: “We have seen several waves coming and fading away under the pressure of a new one. This will be the case for Industry 4.0, even though it seems to us today as a most challenging endeavour, and it is not clear if it will even succeed to displace the presently so successful Industry 3.0.” And he observed: “A search on Google for Industry 5.0 does not bring any result.”
That’s not the case today, of course. I found over 4,000 references. Many were spurious, but there is clearly now a healthy debate around what comes beyond Industry 4.0, even through 4.0 is still more of a goal than and reality. And whereas Industry 4.0 is all about automation, Industry 5.0 — in one view at least — appears to revolve around bringing back the human element to add creativity in some sort of synergistic relationship with the robots.
Industry 5.0, coming soon?
There’s an exploration of this idea in a June 2016 article in Australia’s own Manufacturers’ Monthly, written by Shermine Gotfredsen, general manager APAC with Universal Robots (and the top hit in my Industry 5.0 Google search).
She explains: “This phenomenon, referred to as ‘Industry 5.0’ or collaborative industries reflects a growing view amongst manufacturers of the need to respond to increasing demand amongst customers for a higher degree of individualisation.”
What’s rather surprising is that, according to Gotfredsen, Industry 5.0 is not some futuristic concept, but a present reality. She writes that, while there is a global movement built around creating smart, connected factories of the future, a new trend towards putting the human touch back in production is already transforming the manufacturing process.
“Picture this,” she says. “Robots brandish the tools and perform all tasks while human workers oversee operations. Supported by smart technology, humans and machines collaborate simultaneously on the factory floor.” She claims: “This kind of futuristic scenario is already taking place in factories across the world.”
She makes the astonishing claim: “Eighty five percent of manufacturers consider the ‘connected workforce’ – that is robots and humans working together being routine in manufacturing by 2020. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of manufacturers now describe it as an essential element in their business strategy.”
Even it that happens, it’s a big leap from robots and humans working together to her vision for Industry 5.0 where ‘the human touch’ brings customisation and creativity to robotic mass production.
“In production processes, automation can be used to its fullest potential only when there is a spark of human creativity influencing the processes,” she says. “In this situation, man and machine complement each other, as the human can be responsible for customisation, while the robot processes the product or prepares it for human attention.”
And indeed it is at odds with the vision for industry 4.0, where there is customisation but it is achieved by the robots in response to remote requests from customers, as per this Strategist’s Guide to Industry 4.0.
Adding the human touch to robotic production
“Industry 4.0 … enables business models that take advantage of the economics of mass customisation, where every product is, in effect, created as a batch of one. Currently, digital fabrication is used primarily for prototyping. But as it becomes more sophisticated, and as software and robotics are integrated into new types of assembly lines, high levels of specification will become the norm.”
It goes on to say: “The appliance manufacturer Haier, for example, already makes its washing machines and refrigerators in China to order. Customers specify the features they want on their computers or phones, or at kiosks in Haier’s retail stores, and those specs are transmitted directly to the assembly line.”
So on that basis, much of manufacturing is a long way from Industry 4.0. So where does this leave Industry 5.0? What indeed is it?
I found another couple of articles that take the same view of industry 5.0 such as Industry 5.0: The Convergence of Robots and Artisans, a blog post on the RobotIQ company web site, which says: “With a system like RobotIQ’s Kinetiq Teaching program, manufacturers can pair the skill of a tradesman with the brawn of a welding robot to [decrease] their production times and [increase] accuracy to meet the market needs. These co-working robot systems can be trained by hand placements and through a simple interface to increase a company’s productivity to meet their marketplace demands…”
That doesn’t seem to me to fit the description of co-working. Once the worker has trained the robot, the worker is redundant. Sure, procedures and products will change and there will be a need for retraining, but given the way thing are going with machine learning, the machines are likely to be able to teach themselves.
Industry 5.0 – the scary version
From reading these and other articles I came to the conclusion that one version of industry 5.0 is a PR exercise by the robotics industry to counter the bad press around robots taking all our jobs. However I found another version. It really does represent an evolutionary leap from Industry 4.0, and it’s probably more scary than the idea of robots making us all redundant.
It comes from a paper Industry 5.0—The Relevance and Implications of Bionics and Synthetic Biology, by Professor Peter Sachsenmeier, described as “a strategist, expert in complex technology management, industrial innovator and visionary; also, CEO of Switzerland based management consultancy IMAG Information Management AG.”
He explores bionics and then focuses on synthetic biology, which, he says will be as relevant to engineering development and industry as the silicon chip was during the last 50 years.
“While concepts such as smart cities and Industry 4.0 shine a spotlight on the process states enabled by digital/Web-based technologies, the changes brought about by synthetic biology are more fundamental and foreshadow a tectonic, disruptive, and even geostrategic shift: Industry 5.0.”
He continues: “Industry 4.0 has already triggered a debate about what it will be like to live alongside robots in the future. Industry 5.0 discussions touch on the very essence of humanity’s existence, physical integrity, and relationship with nature. At the moment, this debate seems theoretical, yet it will soon come to the fore.”
And if his views on synthetic biology are accurate, this debate cannot come soon enough. Synthetic biology, he says “contains both ‘heaven,’ in terms of opportunities for a better world and untold benefits for humankind, and ‘hell,’ in terms of opportunities and possibilities for misuse.”
A good place to start the debate would be to some consensus on what Industry 5.0 entails: a very significant evolution in technology and its application to industry beyond Industry 4.0, and not simply a more intimate, collaborative relationship between worker and robot.