In recent months, a lot of outcry has been generated by 5G technology. This has led scientists across the globe to publish reports on the potential of 5G and what it intends to accomplish. Some of these researches, including one from Ericsson, have shown that the value 5G will create, as well as enable, will hit the $100 billion mark by 2026. The manufacturing industry is expected to support approximately 25% of this valuation, which highlights the importance of the 5G factory of the future and vice versa.
This article will discuss:
Expected use cases for the application of 5G in the factories of the future
The value proposition 5G factories bring to manufacturing facilities and warehouses
How the 5G factory will define the future of manufacturing and industrial automation
The expected applications of 5G in manufacturing facilities
Unlike 4G and LTE technologies which were developed for the average mobile consumer, 5G is geared towards industrial application. Its main aim is to support low-latency processing for industries that produce, process, and transfer large data sets. The manufacturing industry is one of those, as every asset on the factory floor produces its own data.
In terms of application, 5G is expected to be a stepping stone to achieving the lights-out factory or Industrie 4.0 in which automation is king. This is also known as the smart factory. To achieve this, data processing across interconnected devices or equipment must occur in real-time. 5G networks provide the reliability a 5G factory will need to process big data in real-time. Thus, with 5G networks, the 5G factories of the future will consist of interconnected systems that share data instantaneously and make decisions in real-time.
The 5G factory will also support predictive maintenance and remote maintenance activities in different ways. One example is through the real-time visualization of faulty components in remote locations by experienced engineering teams. In this scenario, a consultant in Washington can assess the problems with a faulty piece of equipment in Alaska in real-time. 5G networks will speed up communication channels and enable instant sharing of the large historical data that have been collected from the equipment. The repair team can then provide assistance remotely and in real-time.
5G networks are also expected to be the glue that enhances collaborative efforts across Industrial IoT, artificial intelligence, and machine learning initiatives within the 5G factory. In this case, the low-latency processing and high-bandwidth support 5G offers will ensure thousands of IIoT networks function optimally without any lagging.
How the 5G factory will define the future
5G is expected to optimize the use of other interrelated and emerging technologies on the shop floor. These technologies include IIoT, the digital twin, machine learning, robotics, and edge computing. This is why Google has partnered with AT&T to ensure their edge and cloud computing solutions support 5G factories and the use of 5G within manufacturing facilities.
5G networks are expected to be what delivers a comprehensive digital-twin solution to the 5G factory. Thus, digital representations of facilities can receive data from shop-floor sensors to ensure accuracy when used for real-time analytics. 5G networks are expected to support the transfer of the collected data in real-time regardless of their size. With the collected data, factory stakeholders can run simulations through the digital twin to receive business insight.
The integration of 5G will also ensure a digital twin can be used to monitor and manage manufacturing operations in real-time through software-to-software communications. This means the digital twin will receive shop-floor data, analyze it, make a decision, and notify equipment on the shop floor about the next step it should take. All this will be done without a human operator serving as the middle-man, because 5G networks ensure transferred data is sent and received in real-time across 5G factories.
Edge computing initiatives will also be optimized by 5G networks, especially for factories in remote locations. The low-latency processing 5G provides will ensure communications between edge devices or hardware and external data centers such as the industrial cloud occurs in real-time. Thus, expanding edge computing’s ability to capture data to also include decision making.
Another important aspect to consider from the impact of 5G networks is in inventory and logistics management. The Amazon Go example provides a glimpse into what is possible when computer vision, deep learning, and edge computing come together. For Amazon Go stores, customers can simply walk in, pick orders, and check out without communicating with any staff. The sensors and cameras keep track of the items picked, tally total cost, and bill the customer via the Amazon application.
Within the 5G factory, 5G networks can be used to simplify inventory and logistics management. In one scenario, a robot receives an order list, picks the order from storage, and delivers it to specific workstations without human assistance. Sensors attached to shelves will ensure the right items are picked and also take note of the reduced numbers. The robot will also find delivery locations through mapping sensors and reduced inventory is refilled after each trip. Here, 5G networks ensure data from every aspect of this automated process is transferred in real-time thus ensuring the automated inventory-management process works seamlessly.
The proposed benefits of 5G to manufacturing facilities
5G networks are expected to deliver the following benefits to manufacturing facilities:
System automation – The fourth industrial age is expected to deliver automated processes that optimize manufacturing. As some of the scenarios highlighted above show, 5G provides the reliability and speed needed to ensure industrial systems are automated and function accurately in real-time.
Revenue growth – Google’s initiative to position their services as supportive of 5G networks and 5G factories highlights how businesses can take advantage of it for additional revenue. For SMEs, 5G will provide a more affordable pathway to automate traditional manufacturing processes. Automating these processes will also lead to increased productivity and revenue growth.
New business cases – The introduction of 5G provides a foundation for software and hardware developers to build new use cases. These solutions can be within the fields of robotics, edge computing, or automation. Successful use cases will lead to increased productivity and revenue-generation opportunities.
The future of manufacturing is closely intertwined to that of emerging technology solutions such as 5G networks. Thus, to remain competitive, manufacturers must understand the benefits it brings to the 5G factory of the future. This understanding will serve as the springboard needed to create unique use cases for applying 5G to drive automation, enhance productivity, or optimize data-processing techniques. The 5G factory of the future is expected to be defined by a symbiotic relationship in which 5G networks enable operational efficiency while factories provide an environment for 5G to thrive.