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The Rise of Collaborative Automation

Industry 5.0 is ushering in an era of intelligent manufacturing, in which humans and machines collaborate within a smart factory setting.

Industry 5.0

Just as you grasp one smart manufacturing strategy, another methodology emerges to push the boundaries of knowledge further.

This has proved to be the case with Industry 4.0, where technologies such as sensors, wireless communication, and data analytics have boosted the efficiency and productivity of manufacturing processes. Industry 4.0 has been a hot topic for several years now and has helped drive increased digitalisation in industrial markets.

But technology never stands still. That explains the emergence of Industry 5.0 - a human-centric and more rounded version of previous approaches, with a far stronger emphasis on the collaborative link between humans and machines. According to its proponents, Industry 5.0 promises improved flexibility, a better work environment, and more sustainable operations. This potential for positive change makes Industry 5.0 an exciting prospect - in theory, at least.

Industry 5.0 in action

So, what is the real story? Is Industry 5.0 set to usher in an era of intelligent manufacturing where humans and machines collaborate harmoniously within a smart factory setting? Or is it just another concept based on marketing buzzwords with no practical application in the real world?

Industry 5.0 and Intelligent Manufacturing

Let us first establish an accurate and accessible description of the term Industry 5.0. While many variations exist in the public realm, it is perhaps research and technology TWI which does the best job of outlining it concisely:

“Industry 5.0, also known as the Fifth Industrial Revolution, is a new and emerging phase of industrialisation that sees humans working alongside advanced technology and AI-powered robots to enhance workplace processes. This is coupled with a more human-centric focus as well as increased resilience and an improved focus on sustainability."

“Encompassing more than just manufacturing, this new phase builds upon the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) and is enabled by developments in IT that include facets such as artificial intelligence, automation, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics, smart systems, and virtualisation.” (Source: TWI)

It is not just TWI that is talking about Industry 5.0. The European Commission also believes it will be a crucial driver in the economic and societal transitions, putting industry at the heart of digital and green advances. The Commission has published a detailed report - entitled Industry 5.0, a Transformative Vision for Europe – which explains how the concept advances previous methodologies. The report says:

Industry 4.0 is:

  • Centred around enhanced efficiency through digital connectivity and artificial intelligence
  • Technology that is centred around the emergence of cyber-physical objectives
  • Aligned with optimisation of business models – i.e. ultimately directed at minimisation of costs and maximisation of profit for shareholders
  • Not focused on design and performance dimensions essential for systemic transformation and decoupling of resource and material use from negative environmental, climate and social impacts

Industry 5.0, on the other hand:

  • Ensures a framework for industry that combines competitiveness and sustainability
  • Emphasises the impact of alternative modes of (technology) governance for sustainability and resilience
  • Empowers workers through the use of digital devices, endorsing a human-centric approach to technology
  • Builds transition pathways towards environmentally sustainable uses of technology
  • Expands the remit of the corporation’s responsibility to their whole value chains
  • Introduces indicators that show, for each industrial ecosystem, the progress achieved on the path to well-being, resilience and overall sustainability.

(Source: The European Commission)

Human-machine collaboration

So, that is Industry 5.0 on paper (and on-screen). But what about in practice? How might Industry 5.0 be represented in practical, real-world applications on the shop floor, particularly in relation to increased human interaction and collaboration with more intelligent machines?


Automation is an excellent place to start. Previously, robots on the production line have always been housed behind safety cages. In industry 5.0 environments, though, lighter and smaller collaborative robots (cobots) – fitted with state-of-the-art sensors, cameras, and advanced software – will be able to work without protective barriers near humans, reacting to the presence of a worker in a split second. This functionality depends on a combination of vision systems, force sensors, safety light curtains and other collision avoidance technologies. If a person gets too close, the cobot can automatically slow down, change direction, or stop altogether.

Also, the latest generation of cobots from the likes of ABB and Omron are generally seen as being more flexible and easier to program and reprogram than their traditional counterparts, meaning they can be more quickly redeployed for different tasks. The more straightforward installation and integration, without the need for expensive reconfiguration, enhances flexibility and accessibility in production environments and, therefore, has a greater number of potential use cases.

Cobots can often be set up through intuitive HMIs and with no coding requirement, allowing operators to automate tasks using graphical node programming. They also use common industry-standard connections like Modbus and Ethernet/IP. Cobots are also more affordable and compact than traditional robots, typically handling payloads between 10 and 35 kilograms, making better use of space on the shop floor.

Deployment examples are increasing by the day. Cobots are already extensively used for assembly and manufacturing, particularly in applications such as electronics manufacturing, where intricate assembly processes or customisation are required. As their capabilities evolve, adoption is also taking place in sectors such as automotive, with, for instance, Ford using cobots to help workers with restricted mobility perform tasks such as attaching circular covers to engines.

They are also used for quality inspection and materials handling tasks such as picking and packing in the food industry, helping workers reduce the need to perform laborious and repetitive tasks. For example, cobots from Universal Robots have helped Unilever automate two production lines in Poland, palletizing 1100 boxes in an eight-hour shift – work that previously had to be performed by humans.

What next for Industry 5.0?

So, cobots are making an impact as part of Industry 5.0 methodologies. By enhancing human-robot collaboration, flexibility, and efficiency, they can help businesses achieve greater productivity and innovation while prioritising worker safety and well-being. Indeed, the market for collaborative robots is set for rapid expansion. It was valued at $1.77 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach $12.7 billion by 2030. Key to that market growth will be technology evolution. According to research from industrial consultancy specialist FutureBridge, these advances will occur in several critical areas including perception sensors, AI and machine learning integration, cloud computing and connectivity, edge computing and end-of-arm tooling.

AI, for example, holds vast potential. Imagine a cobot that can learn from the working patterns of the people around it, improving efficiency and ensuring safety. Meanwhile, edge computing could underpin the ability to make quicker decisions where the data is generated in situ. FutureBridge says rapid advances in these areas will see cobots co-exist in more industries, such as healthcare and logistics, creating new opportunities for cobot manufacturing companies and their partners in the supply chain.

The potential for market growth is seen with several major players becoming increasingly interested in cobots as part of the transition to Industry 5.0. A forward-looking blog on the process automation and safety of tomorrow from Schneider said the company was committed to exploring the possibilities of Industry 5.0 – particularly in relation to more human-centric operations, where workers leverage their skills to boost engagement and personal productivity. According to Schneider, the automation solutions of tomorrow need to be more flexible and open to reach their full potential, based on advances in open, standards-based technologies such as its EcoStruxure™.

Siemens, too, has been vocal in stating that Industry 5.0 is upon us. Coverage on its simcenter portal examines how it can be deployed to create a more sustainable, digital, intuitive, and inclusive society.

Ultimately, Industry 5.0 is here to stay. As we stand on the brink of this exciting new era, the fusion of human ingenuity and robotic precision promises to redefine the boundaries of innovation and sustainability.

With a background in electronics and electrical engineering, with a keen eye on innovation and how things work.