Experts review the challenges that face industries targeting the fully lights-out facility

Berenice Baker, Editor, Enter Quantum

March 4, 2024

3 Min Read

One of the visions for Industry 4.0 is the “lights out” factory, run by robots and fully automated processes, without the need for humans – and therefore human comforts like light and heat – on the shop floor.

An industry expert panel at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona discussed whether this should be the ultimate goal and what barriers need to be overcome to achieve it.

Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas has been investigating remote autonomous operations since the 1980s. Anuar M Isa, principal telecommunications engineer with Petronas’s technical solutions group said that the company’s experience demonstrated how critical it is to put the fundamentals in place. The necessary automation process solutions had yet to reach maturity during the company’s early experiments.

“Now we have all these things like machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data analytics that will provide the platform for us to facilitate all these requirements for automation and remote autonomous operation,” he said.

Petronas has a range of goals for automation and at the moment it is only able to reduce the number of people operating an oil and gas platform, not eliminate human intervention entirely. This could be described as a digital evolution rather than a digital transformation.

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“Before we can reach autonomous operations with completely unmanned facilities, we have to incorporate all the necessary advanced process controls with real-time modeling that gives visibility of the actual behavior of the process. That requires complex engineering efforts and investment.”

While Industry 4.0 requires a high level of automation, reliable equipment and complete monitoring, it also presents hidden cybersecurity risks and an increased surface threat area that could span many layers. Jason Huang, CEO of CTOne, addressed how to progress automation without introducing risk.

Huang said that it is common when a customer embraces automation into their production procedures to interface with legacy systems. Companies need to assess what they need to connect, considering the data being transmitted as part of the cost-benefit analysis. 

“It’s different for every enterprise. They need to do their homework so they know the exact thing they want inside their factory, what kinds of products they want to add and any potential problems they want to solve,” he said.

Carlos Carazo, global IoT product, technology and operations director at Spanish telecommunications operator Telefónica, supports customers to strategize their path toward automation and digitalization. He talked about the network challenges companies need to overcome to digitalize and automate processes.

“Every country is totally different, for example, in terms of spectrum,” he said. “In Europe especially we need spectrum to do private networks for customers and that is one of the barriers that we need to solve.”

Carazo added that there were other problems related to the broader ecosystem of devices, not least that 5G devices are not widely available – there need to be more and at a good price point.

“The other important thing to utilize the private network is we need specialized companies with specialized resources for the last mile of process. Whether that’s a private network, computer vision, robotics or whatever, they’re difficult to find,” Carazo added. 

About the Author(s)

Berenice Baker

Editor, Enter Quantum

Berenice is the editor of Enter Quantum, the companion website and exclusive content outlet for The Quantum Computing Summit. Enter Quantum informs quantum computing decision-makers and solutions creators with timely information, business applications and best practice to enable them to adopt the most effective quantum computing solution for their businesses. Berenice has a background in IT and 16 years’ experience as a technology journalist.

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