On the way to Industry 5.0?

In spring 2022, BAG Analytics GmbH was founded with the vision of collecting and evaluating all data generated in a company from production, administration, laboratory and warehouse in one place. The goals are not only to improve process efficiency and process reliability, but also to save resources.
The analysis after two years shows: The need for such a solution is there and is even growing, because the new dimension of “sustainability” and technical possibilities such as AI are drivers for profound change – in all industries.

In the following, however, the focus will be on surface technology.

Initial situation Laws

The European Green Deal envisages that the European Union will be the first continent to become climate neutral in 2050. A key instrument for promoting the circular economy is to be the digital product passport. In some sectors such as batteries, electronics or plastics, this is to be implemented as early as 2027, in other areas not until 2030.

The internationally recognized standard Greenhouse Gas Protocol and the ESRS E1 Climate Change of the CSRD reporting divide the climate-damaging greenhouse gases into 3 categories: Scope 1, 2 and 3. These quantify the direct and indirect emissions in the value chain of a product and ensure that the emissions of the companies involved in production are not recorded twice.

The annual obligation to provide evidence of sustainable corporate governance in the form of ESG reporting (Environmental, Social and Governance) will soon affect all companies: large companies with more than 250 employees from 2025, SMEs from 2026. Small companies are not subject to this obligation, but they are asked to base their reporting on ESG reporting.

In order to achieve these climate goals, the EU Taxonomy Regulation provides for the steering of investments in sustainable projects and activities: Companies that operate sustainably and in an environmentally friendly manner will be supported in raising capital.

In addition to other constraints such as a shortage of raw materials and inflationary increases in the prices of resources, the above-mentioned regulations will soon lead to the quantification of their emissions and resources. Companies have recognized that there is no way around digitalization and have started on the path. Today, a lot of data is already collected and stored in a company. But is this data also evaluated and used for decision-making?

Initial situation Digitalisation status

A survey conducted by the BAG in June 2023 among 127 galvanizing companies of various sizes on the state of digitization at that time revealed the following:

    Some operational areas are already digitalized, while others are not. The degree of digitization often depends on the size of the company. All of the companies surveyed control their order planning via an ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning System) and have largely digitized their administration, whereas wastewater pretreatment is hardly digitized. The laboratory and warehouse areas are digitized in SMEs, but not in small and large companies. The large corporations can easily map the production and logistics areas digitally.

    Overall, large and medium-sized companies appear to be better positioned than small businesses. It is estimated that they have better access to the resource “know-how in the field of digitalization” than small businesses.

    The hurdles on the path to digitalization are generally seen as the complexity of the technology, resistance to change and the integration of existing systems.

    While it is clear that digitization is an important tool in order and product tracking for process reliability, it is also recognized that it can counteract the shortage of skilled workers in many areas of the company. In fact, however, sustainability and climate goals are far down on the list of expectations for digitization - as of mid-2023.

    Most companies plan to implement digitization over a period of 1-2 years at most. All companies want to have largely completed the process within 5 years. Similar time periods are given for the use of digital tools. What is interesting and striking, however, is that there is a discrepancy between the planned use and the implementation period of digitization: the estimated period of use within 1-2 years is 15% longer than that of its implementation. Even with longer periods, there is a deviation from the desired use to implementation.

Identify and close the gap

The discrepancy between the assessment of the use and implementation of digitisation shows that companies have great planning uncertainty in this area. They also lack a roadmap, a concept for implementing digitisation.

The market currently does not provide a universal solution for all companies, as ready-made software does not take into account the individual requirements of each company.

The basic idea behind BAG Analytics is to network all existing digital data from the various operational areas in an intelligent data platform. Interfaces are provided for the digital recording of analog data so that data from all relevant operational areas can be linked and related.

This cumulative data provides information for decisions from different perspectives: quality management, laboratory analysis, dosing technology, resource and environmental management. They provide the KPIs for senior management, specific work instructions for the workers at the plant or can control processes fully automatically, for example pumps for re-dosing.

A key element will be the evaluation of the data using a logic defined by specialists and stored in the system. At present, the decision-making authority for the evaluation of the data still lies with humans.

The implementation of this global idea has progressed significantly over the last two years with the programming of the data platform ASAP "Analyzing System for Automated Processes" and is currently undergoing practical testing in two electroplating plants. It is being continuously refined. ASAP has a modular structure and is tailored to the individual needs of the company.

Since the company was founded, many discussions have taken place in the industry and workshops on the topic of digitization have been held. As a result, many companies are waiting for a solution like the one ASAP offers with data networking. Data security in Germany is also very important.

Are you still working on Industry 4.0 or have you already reached Industry 5.0?

According to the definition, Industry 4.0 refers to projects for the comprehensive digitalization of industrial production and includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, information and communication networks.

Of course, there is only a small number of companies that have already reached this point according to the above definition, but they are all on the way there. In the meantime, legal requirements are becoming more urgent and AI is also finding its way into everyday life and industrial production. The first voices are already talking about the next industrial revolution and Industry 5.0.

Despite all the digitalization and automation of processes, the most important factor must not be lost sight of: people.

Authors: Dr. Elke Spahn, Johannes Spahn, Frank Benner and Sigrid Frey