It has been more than 200 years since the Industrial Revolution kickstarted the mechanized manufacturing industry, bringing mass-produced goods to market. Now, with the arrival of 5G technology, the sector faces its biggest transformation yet. The fourth Industrial Revolution, often referred to as “Industry 4.0,” will usher in smart factories. In these futuristic factories, connected devices can sense their environments and interoperate with each other, making decentralized decisions. Many expect this transformation to rely on the underlying capabilities of next-generation 5G networks. The need for agile, fluid infrastructure is a consistent theme in Industry 4.0 discussions. As the devices in tomorrow’s factories grow and become more sophisticated, manufacturers understand that they must be able to adapt the networks that connect them quickly, reconfiguring them at will.
Tomorrow’s smart factories will be filled with sensors, each monitoring different aspects of the working environment. They will likely include connected tools, using information ranging from location to accelerometer data to understand where and how they are being used, to guide workers accordingly. 5G’s high capacity, wireless flexibility and low-latency performance make it a natural choice to support manufacturers in these environments. It promises to help them meet several challenges.
The first of these challenges involves gathering operational intelligence. As networks grow and become smarter, they will produce far more information than their predecessors. Manufacturers that can capture and crunch this information could produce actionable intelligence that increases productivity. 5G’s low latency and high-bandwidth capabilities can support this increasing data flow. Aside from increasing throughput, analyzed data can also help reduce downtime. 5G-connected sensors can channel real-time information about equipment performance, ranging from vibration to noise data. Combined with machine learning algorithms, this data can help companies predict when expensive equipment is about to fail, reducing the likelihood of expensive downtime. When the network gives us advanced warning that a piece of specialized equipment needs a repair, augmented reality using low-latency 5G-enabled headsets will make technicians more efficient. Level 1 technicians can travel to a site and have engineers at headquarters guide them through the repair process remotely via 5G networks, using context-sensitive 3D animations to walk them through the necessary steps.
New capabilities at the network edge
Finally, 5G will enable manufacturers to drive more functionality closer to the edge of the network. Because this network technology’s reliability is so high and its latency so low, equipment can communicate wirelessly with back-end systems for time-critical operations in ways that were not possible before. For the first time, this will combine fast production-line operations with the power of networked intelligence. We can expect new capabilities such as advanced visual recognition using the power of deep learning neural networks in the cloud. This will allow robotic systems to visually inspect products for quality control purposes in real time, with a high degree of accuracy.
Massive Industrial IoT
According to a recent study by (IDC), the manufacturing and transportation industry’s yearly spend on IoT is more than other industries. And the manufacturing industry will continue to spend more yearly on IoT than any other industry through 2022 and beyond.
To manage the large amount of data and information from these connected devices, manufacturing companies will need 5G’s capacity and speeds. From procurement to distribution, 5G will mean manufacturers can connect more sensors, devices and assets through a single network giving them better visibility into the supply chain. The possibilities for these connected devices are nearly endless. For example, these connected devices could help improve predictive maintenance and operational efficiency on the factory floor as well as prevent theft and quality issues within logistics channels.
5G will be the catalyst that will eventually help unleash the capabilities of robotics. Because 5G will utilize edge computing capabilities, data will live closer to the source. This combined with the high speeds and large bandwidth of 5G will kick start the creation of smaller, cheaper and untethered robots.
Auto manufacturing is already using co-bots, or collaborative robots, to complete hard to reach, dangerous tasks underneath the car while human workers perform tasks outside the car. 5G will eventually help these robots become more agile, making faster decisions and quickly adjusting to changes in near real time.
Ultimately, we will see more types of smaller autonomous and collaborative robots on the factory floor performing a variety of tasks. These robots will not only help take the load off their human co-workers but will ultimately help factories optimize production.
5G will help enable manufacturing companies to be more flexible and adjust the network based on their needs. With on-premise edge compute capabilities, they will be able to control sensitive data locally. In addition, they will be able to eventually separate a single physical 5G network into multiple virtual networks via network slicing. For instance, a portion of the network in a manufacturing plant could be split off for operational equipment efficiency or when there’s an increase in market demand.
These capabilities coupled with network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) will be among the key ingredients for manufacturers to optimize their network for ideal performance.
Manufacturing companies are already using augmented and virtual reality. But they haven’t fully invested in the technologies because of the large bandwidth it takes to run them. Employees also must be physically connected to the network to use the technologies.
With 5G, employees will be able to work with the technologies anywhere on the factory floor. They will be able to use it for activities like training, machine maintenance, data visualization and designing. Better bandwidth will mean less probability that AR/VR connections are lost or that the technology will have to compete for connections. Imagine every employee having an AR headset that lets them adjust the production of a machine without touching it. Or visualize machine maintenance instructions on the fly.
AI and Machine Learning
AI will be a key feature of the smart factory of the future, but it needs access to large amounts of near real-time, quality data to work efficiently. 5G’s massive IoT connections and fast speeds, combined with edge computing power, will eventually enable AI to quickly “learn” from its mistakes and make smarter, faster and more reliable decisions.
Currently, AI is used in small doses to complete repetitive tasks. Eventually, AI could be used to control factory floor production with little to no intervention from humans. But AI won’t just be used to control machines, it could also be used to predict issues in the supply chain, prevent fraud and assess production opportunities.
The 5G smart factory of the future will center on a fully connected experience. From massive device connectivity and innovative technology experiences to near real-time automation and network flexibility, 5G will help bring major advancements to the smart factory. And manufacturing companies could ultimately realize major benefits such as performance improvements, operational efficiencies and increased safety.
- How 5G Will Power the Smart Factory of the Future – https://www.business.att.com/learn/tech-advice/how-5g-will-revolutionize-manufacturing.html
- 5G will be the catalyst that will eventually help unleash the capabilities of robotics. – https://www.newequipment.com/industry-trends/article/22060208/5-ways-5g-will-power-the-smart-factory-of-the-future
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