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Along with increased connectivity, reliability in remote locations and data security, 5G brings the promise of new opportunities for smart manufacturing and industrial IoT.
Unplanned downtime, equipment failure and production errors on the manufacturing floor can lead to residual effects in the form of damage control, customer dissatisfaction, supply chain disruptions and even revenue loss. By embracing and planning for an inevitable 5G-powered future, manufacturers can avoid these risks and accelerate Industry 4.0 developments while simultaneously scaling across other core technology areas including AI, robotics, computer vision and motion control. Seventy-five percent of industrial companies consider 5G critical in their digital transformation efforts, according to CapGemini's report, "5G in industrial operations."
5G in manufacturing can help organizations transform their current industrial practices into processes that thrive on the speed of information delivery and rapid, diverse edge computing.
Factory automation will adapt to changes in demand
Manufacturers currently experiment with proofs of concept (PoC) or select automated machinery and processes, which contribute to greater efficiencies and better operational data sets. These efforts are often disconnected, slow or do not scale because they are not coordinated en masse within the entire manufacturing facility. They still require human intervention.
In a 5G future, the operation of highly automated, robotic and connected machines is coordinated by a central command to optimize the manufacturer's output. 5G in manufacturing will power rapid data transfers from machine sensors with AI, computer vision and edge computing to set factories up to adapt automatically -- and even predictively -- to changes in demand. The factories will adjust workflow and troubleshoot machine downtime. Manufacturers using 5G will see improvements in the form of cost reduction, increased efficiencies, increased mix and ability to meet demand, easier product customization, increased factory use and throughput, and easier machine reconfiguration.
5G in manufacturing increases production monitoring efficiency
Manufacturers send site managers to various buildings and other remote locations to perform equipment and machinery inspections, check equipment and tooling conditions, and manually run diagnostics. A network of IoT sensors monitors equipment and flags potential or current issues.
Manufacturers use drones armed with cameras and computer vision technology to spot any other issues. IoT sensors may use AI to detect sounds that signal a problem. This is all underscored by two 5G networks: a high-bandwidth local one for sensors and drones to communicate with central processing software, and a low-bandwidth, longer-range one that links the remote site back to mission control as needed. With 5G in manufacturing, organizations will employ better use of employee time and resources, reduce human site inspections, improve site inspection productivity as the problem areas are predetermined, reduce safety risks on the production floor and increase productivity.
Update employee training with augmented reality
Manufacturers invest trainer time and resources to teach new staff members in person with legacy materials and media. With many manufacturers experiencing high worker turnover rates, the high investment in training can spell a bigger loss in productivity over time as workers cycle through.
One of 5G's greatest promises is low end-to-end latency -- down to 1 millisecond -- which creates the opportunity for new ways to train employees via augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can show step-by-step training procedures in real-time. Trainees perform actions in field-of-view and can see if they need to change what they are doing along the way to customize or avoid an error. A high-speed, low-latency 5G connection links the AR and VR headset to high-performance computing located at the edge of the network. This ensures there is no lag as the employee moves. Manufacturers will have a shorter initial training time, increased procedural accuracy, more efficient switching between jobs, increased customization, reduced accidents and increased performance monitoring.
5G improves asset tracking with connected sensors
On a manufacturing floor or construction site, tools can easily get misplaced or stolen. Today, site supervisors must manually track manufacturing assets and inventory them on set schedules, taking up precious time and resources without guaranteed accuracy. Workers lose time trying to locate tools as well.
Manufacturers use software linked to IoT sensors on important equipment that can detect when that equipment has been misused, needs repair or must be replaced. Workers can use the equipment data to locate tools more efficiently and get back to production. Low-power 5G networks connect to asset sensors and use multiple antennae and signal triangulation to determine equipment location changes. Better network connections will improve asset discovery, improve productivity, reduce site losses, create more accurate inventory management and provide better data to plan future asset needs.
How manufacturers can prepare for the 5G journey
Manufacturers must ask themselves the following questions to plan for the imminent changes to their operations that 5G will facilitate:
- What PoC can the organization begin running today that will be further augmented by 5G?
- What key standards or specifications related to 5G does the PoC require? What about other use cases?
- What critical needs -- such as security or edge processing -- will the PoC or future use cases require?
- What partners can accelerate 5G-related innovation, deployment, distribution and analytics?
- What software, developer tools and hardware will accelerate 5G use cases and protect investments?