Exponential demand growth for remote and unmanned terminals in smart home, logistics, manufacturing and other end-user applications has driven iterative updates in Wi-Fi technology. Among the current generations of technologies, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) is mainstream while Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (802.11ax) are at promotional stages, according to TrendForce’s investigations. In order to meet the connection requirements of industry concepts such as the Metaverse, many major manufacturers have trained their focus on the faster and more stable next generation 802.11be Wi-Fi standard amendment, commonly known as Wi-Fi 7. Considering technical characteristics, maturity, and product certification status, Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are expected to surpass Wi-Fi 5 to become mainstream technology in 2022, with global market share expected to reach 58%.
TrendForce states, in common residential applications of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E supports 6GHz and expands bandwidth by at least 1200MHz, delivering higher efficiency, throughput, and security than Wi-Fi 6, and can optimize remote work, VR/AR, and other user experiences. Moreover, in terms of the vertical IoT sector with the highest output value, smart manufacturing still mostly employs Ethernet and 4G/5G mobile networks as the central communication technologies in current smart factories. However, as early as 2019, major British aerospace equipment manufacturer, Mettis Aerospace, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) conducted phased testing of the practicality of Wi-Fi 6 in factories, and they believe that Wi-Fi 6 can be widely adopted for manufacturing.
Market not yet mature, practical application of Wi-Fi 7 must wait until the end of 2023 at the earliest
TrendForce believes that the introduction of Industry 4.0 technology tools will become more common and the degree of digitalization within companies will increase in the post-pandemic era, with 5G and Wi-Fi expected to bring complementary and synergistic effects to the manufacturing field. The primary reason for this is that 5G characteristics include wide connection, large bandwidth, and low latency. In addition, multi-access edge computing (MEC) and standalone (SA) network slicing can improve computing power and flexibility, all of which significantly upgrade smart manufacturing tools. Although the transmission range of Wi-Fi is small, it resists interference and enhances the physical penetration of wireless signals at smart manufacturing locations. Wi-Fi also reduces the cost of 5G distributed antennas and small base stations while extending communications range and improving equipment battery life.
Looking forward to next generation Wi-Fi 7, companies such as MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Broadcom, are already laying the groundwork for their forays into this standard. TrendForce believes, even though focus is currently shifting to Wi-Fi 7, scheduled application of Wi-Fi 7 is expected to fall between the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024. Challenges remain in terms of overall development and issues such as equipment investment, spectrum usage, deployment cost, and terminal equipment penetration must all be overcome in order to demonstrate the technical benefits of Wi-Fi 7.
In light of the metaverse’s ability to satisfy the demands of WFH, virtual reality, and simulations, the smart manufacturing industry will also likely capitalize on the rise of the metaverse and undergo an accelerated growth of related technologies, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Global smart manufacturing revenue is expected to increase at a 15.35% CAGR across the 2021-2025 period and surpass US$540 billion in 2025. This growth can primarily be attributed to several factors. First, industrial applications take place in closed environments, and companies that utilize such applications have generally made good progress in terms of digital transformation. Furthermore, by utilizing simulation technologies, companies are able to significantly cut down on their labor costs, project time, and wasted resources. Simulation technologies, if developed as an industry 4.0 application, also serve as the backbone of CPS (cyber-physical systems). TrendForce therefore expects the smart manufacturing industry to be perfectly positioned with innate advantages and motivations as one of the main enablers of the metaverse.
Regarding the diverse mainstream smart manufacturing tools, digital twins, which major adopters believe to be a significant application of industry 4.0, empower the simulation of the physical world through digital data, bridge the virtual world with the real world, and subsequently serve as a key technology shaping the metaverse during its infancy. In particular, Microsoft has included digital twins in its metaverse technology stack due to their ability to generate rich digital models. It should be pointed out that the vast majority of digital twins currently used for industrial applications deliver digital simulations for either a single product or a single production line primarily because the reliability of simulated models requires a database containing sufficient data from the modeled product itself. Some examples of digital twins in action include Boeing utilizing digital twins to build engines, Unilever using simulated production lines to cut down on waste production, and Siemens Energy and Ericsson respectively leveraging Nvidia’s Omniverse platform to operate power plants and perform predictive maintenance as well as simulating equipment allocations for 5G networks.
Digital twin technologies will progress towards wider deployments and deeper operations in response to the rise of the metaverse and to the growing complexity of digital simulation models used for constructing products. Hence, relevant digital twin technologies will also begin to emerge in the market. In terms of width of deployment, digital twins need to model more comprehensive and extensive virtual objects and spaces that form the operating environment in the metaverse in order to achieve better predictive accuracy. Relevant technologies include 5G, WiFi 6, cloud and edge computing, smart sensors, as well as more resilient communication environments/computing platforms, and more diverse sensors. In terms of depth of operation, developments in technologies used for industrial drones, cobots, and machine vision feature improved precision and operability that enable AI-based decisions made in the virtual space to be applicable to decision-making scenarios in the real, physical world.
On the whole, taking into account the rapid development of AR/VR and HMI technologies, as well as other factors including economic outcomes, feasibility of operation, and the overall industrial environment, TrendForce believes that the direction of metaverse-based digital twin application development for industrial purposes will focus on human resource training, remote diagnostics, energy monitoring, and predictive maintenance in the short and medium terms. For instance, Rockwell, Siemens, ABB, Advantech, Ennoconn, and Delta are some of the companies that have made good progress in this area. In the long term, on the other hand, individual companies will likely be able to construct virtual factories in the collaborative industrial metaverse and thereby connect their various factory locations or even engage in cross-industrial collaborations. With regards to long-term applications, then, companies that are competent in industry 4.0 development and possess various lighthouse factories and vast databases will likely to be pioneers in the industry; leading examples include Bosch, Schneider Electric, Haier, and Foxconn.
The global smart manufacturing market is expected to welcome a golden period of growth across five years, starting with annual revenue of US305 billion in 2021 and surpassing US450 billion in annual revenue in 2025 at a 10.5% CAGR, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. This growth can be attributed to several factors, including the accelerating digital transformation efforts from enterprises, the increased demand from industrial automation and WFH applications, and the emergence of 5G, advanced AI technologies, and other value-added services.
Looking ahead to 2022, TrendForce believes that the outlook of smart manufacturing has evolved from such conservative strategies as improving the resilience of the manufacturing industry itself, to increasing the industry’s production capacity as well as efficiency while reducing both energy expenditure and carbon emissions. These advantages are expected to serve as the main drivers propelling the growth of the smart manufacturing market next year.
Smart manufacturing development will revolve around 5G, edge computing, and carbon footprint reduction going forward
The core feature of smart manufacturing lies in its ability to deliver instant feedback through the integration of virtual data and real, physical equipment. Hence, low latency, high security, and fast computing power have become increasingly important for smart manufacturing development, which will revolve around edge computing and 5G applications, including AR/VR, machine vision, digital twins, and predictive maintenance, all of which will experience considerable upgrades in functionality thanks to smart manufacturing.
Furthermore, as the issue of global warming gains more and more media coverage, 137 countries have now committed to achieving carbon neutrality. This pursuit of environmentally friendly outcomes is also reflected in the current state of industry 4.0 development. For instance, companies including Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, and Tata Steel all operate manufacturing facilities that qualify them for membership in WEF’s Global Lighthouse Network. The aforementioned companies have ensured their facilities operate with optimized energy consumption, highly effective manufacturing processes, and reduced carbon emissions through the adoption of computer simulation/modeling and smart management. TrendForce expects the future design of smart manufacturing equipment and factories to center on the use of environmentally friendly IoT technologies.
Taiwanese manufacturers are likely to seize shares in the niche market in light of the rise of domestic micro-factories
It should be pointed out that the Taiwanese manufacturing industry possesses certain competitive advantages in the global market, including a highly consolidated supply chain, a relatively comprehensive smart manufacturing value chain, and the ability to deliver highly customized solutions. In particular, various Taiwanese manufacturers specialize in full-service, integrated smart solutions that feature equipment health monitoring and machine vision functionalities, thereby significantly lowering the barrier for adoption. Assuming that the domestic industry is able to continue leveraging their existing competitive advantages and furthering their current developments, TrendForce expects micro-factories to become the key factor through which Taiwanese companies can find commercial success in the global smart manufacturing industry.
Although the smart manufacturing value chain has historically had its various verticals spread throughout the world, recent trends such as a return of domestic manufacturing and tectonic shifts in the manufacturing industry have resulted in the rise of shortened supply chains as well as localized operations. These developments have led to the recent surge of micro-factories. TrendForce’s investigations indicate that, in addition to their high degree of automation and analytical accuracy, micro-factories deliver improved manufacturing outcomes while minimizing resource consumption and yielding such benefits as a flexible supply chain, lean human resources, and low initial cost. Micro-factories have already seen widespread usage in the global automotive and electronics industries in light of these benefits. Likewise, TrendForce believes that Taiwanese manufacturers of bicycle chains, steel nuts/bolts/screws, and suitcases will likely succeed in their respective niche markets by upgrading their manufacturing operation with micro-factories.