Five Ways 5G is Transforming the Manufacturing Landscape

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5G can help realize the ideal of a modular factory where machinery can be quickly reconfigured to optimize production.

For manufacturers, 5G offers compelling opportunities to improve operational performance and build greater resilience into processes. Many new services and opportunities will arise from its pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity.

That’s the word from a report issued by The Manufacturing Institute, which looks at the unbounded potential of 5G in manufacturing. “5G is a significant step beyond 4G,” the study’s authors, led by Dr. Shawn DuBravac of Avrio Institute, point out. Manufacturers may start out with LTE “for high-bandwidth applications for tasks such as streaming video and real-time applications that require very low latency,” DuBravac and his co-authors point out. As more 5G-ready equipment comes on the scene, “LTE and 5G are widely expected to coexist on the same private networks for at least the next five years.”

5G technology takes networks well beyond previous capabilities, the co-authors added. “5G has unique properties and attributes, which will define its disruptive characteristics. These include high data rates, higher system capacity, reduced latency, and massive device connectivity. “5G can help realize the ideal of a modular factory where machinery can be quickly reconfigured to optimize production,” they observe. “It can facilitate data collection from a dense population of sensors at a previously impossible scale. And it will be able to head off problems by enabling systems that automatically schedule maintenance or order replacements for consumables to ensure there is minimal downtime. It paves the way for self-configuring manufacturing lines, proactive equipment maintenance determined by analyzing sensor data, and autonomous vehicles that can begin or perhaps one day complete outbound logistics. “

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See also: 5G and Digital Twins: It Takes an Ecosystem

DuBravac and his co-authors point to a range of applications that 5G makes possible:

Digital twins. “Digital twins usually require large datasets to be effective,” DuBravac and his co-authors state. “5G networks can not only facilitate the transmission of these datasets across vast distances at very high speeds but, with its low-power variants, can enable sensors for applications that may require far-flung sensors in remote locations such as stretches of roads or fields in agriculture applications.”

Industrial Internet of Things. These device deployments focus on “measuring how efficiently factory machines are operating and the environmental factors that can affect that operation, such as temperature and humidity,” the co-authors state. “IIoT sensors can be used to provide real-time input to factory-floor workers on the operational health of machines, helping to ensure worker safety. They can also report on potential longer-term challenges, such as whether a part needs to be replaced or whether lubricant needs to be ordered to ensure its optimal operation. IIoT-driven data can even unlock new business opportunities in terms of allowing precise monitoring of costs for manufacturing-as-a-service scenarios.”

Extended reality (XR). XR technologies “run the gamut from virtual reality— an immersive experience that completely shuts out the physical world—to augmented reality, in which digital objects appear and can be manipulated in the real world,” DuBravac and his co-authors explain. “It also has many horizontal business applications, the co-authors state. “XR has particular value in sectors like construction and manufacturing, where participants can see detailed models of complex machinery. Manufacturers can present data and information about machinery in spatially relevant ways, which in turn can aid workers in maintenance, repair, and training. XR applications are ideally experienced through a headset.”

Autonomous vehicles and robotics. To reach their full potential, autonomous vehicles “will have to communicate with each other and other connected, intelligent parts of the transportation grid using technologies referenced under the umbrella term vehicle-to-everything (V2X). 5G can also be used to guide robots or forklifts through factories using many of the same core-enabling technologies, such as advanced computer vision destined for passenger cars. 5G has the potential to enable advanced automation through zero-touch approaches. From forklifts to drones to warehouse shelves themselves, 5G will connect autonomous modes of transportation — all forms of transportation within the future factory could be connected to the 5G network.”

Safety and security. “5G opens the door to multiple high-definition video streams from fixed cameras and drones — likely navigating via the 5G network as well — to ensure the security of facilities or monitor for any signs of disruption or failure, particularly when paired with a computer vision system that can analyze this video and detect aberrations or dangerous situations,” DuBravac and his co-authors state.

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About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor. He is a regular contributor to Forbes on digital, cloud and Big Data topics. He served on the organizing committee for the recent IEEE International Conference on Edge Computing (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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