Subscribe Button 1

The Role of 5G in Smart Factories

5G in manufacturing is transforming industry operations as leaders reimagine the factory of the future. With 5G in smart factories, manufacturers will be able to integrate more cutting-edge technologies including automated robots, IoT devices and digital twins. 5G is unlocking new possibilities in manufacturing at a time when the sector is evolving to meet growing challenges.

Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation

The arrival of 5G in manufacturing is a significant development in today’s manufacturing industry. Over the past few years, digital transformation has swept through manufacturing companies worldwide, part of a trend known as Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New technologies are changing how the sector operates, bringing efficiency, productivity, sustainability and affordability gains.

For example, the cloud is helping manufacturing companies adopt new technologies without investing in sprawling on-premises server infrastructure. With cloud computing, manufacturers can try out new management software, connect numerous IoT and AI devices and control growing fleets of industrial robots seamlessly.

While the cloud provides Industry 4.0 manufacturers with computing power, the Industrial Internet of Things — or IIoT — gives facilities intelligence. IIoT devices are a core part of the smart factories of tomorrow. These smart, connected sensors are invaluable for data collection and operational visibility, providing real-time insights into a manufacturing facility’s performance. IIoT is crucial for the success of other key technologies in smart factories, including industrial robots, collaborative robots, augmented reality and predictive maintenance.

Why 5G in Manufacturing Matters

It’s challenging to overstate the role of 5G in the widespread digital transformation of the manufacturing industry. On one hand, digital transformation itself is crucial for the future of manufacturing. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates it will be short 2.1 million employees by 2030. Demand for manufacturing services is not going down any time soon, so the industry needs a way to resolve this labor gap.

Robotics is the clear solution, a cornerstone of Industry 4.0 and smart factories. As of 2022, the global industrial robotics market is estimated to be worth over $55 billion, indicating substantial investment and growth as manufacturers increasingly adopt robots. Collaborative robots are becoming particularly popular. These robots are specifically designed to work safely alongside humans with the help of smart sensors, many of which use IoT technology.

Data collection plays a critical role in the future of manufacturing. Robotics and IIoT are remarkable technologies but implementing them effectively relies heavily on data-based insights. Manufacturers can use data to identify patterns in their operations, such as , process bottlenecks, resource utilization and energy consumption. These insights indicate where technology is needed most, such as adding a robot to improve quality control or IoT sensors for measuring energy consumption throughout a manufacturing facility.

Where robotics and IIoT rely on data, collecting, storing and processing data relies on network technology. This is especially true when it comes to IoT. These devices are constantly compiling and transmitting information and communicating with other devices. Limited bandwidth and poor latency can hold back the potential of a manufacturer’s IIoT network.

5G can handle much more data and allows for much lower latency than previous generations of network connectivity. This means devices can communicate much quicker with one another, allowing for rapid response times to things like IoT sensor data. Speedier processing with 5G isn’t just a nice perk for speedier loading times — it can significantly impact the success of next-gen technologies in manufacturing.

To illustrate this, imagine a self-driving car. Ideally, the vehicle stops quickly when the sensors detect an object in its path. If there is high latency between the sensor detecting that object and when the car’s AI tells the brakes to activate, it could cause an accident. Latency can make the difference between success and failure in automated systems, which is why the low latency of 5G is a game changer for smart factories.

5G in Smart Factories — The Future of the Industry

What does 5G look like in the fabric of a smart factory? The smart factories of the near future will include a combination of human employees and automated systems. Manufacturers will use IoT, data analytics and 5G networks to create and analyze digital twins. These virtual recreations of their manufacturing facilities will be used to achieve maximum efficiency and optimization, streamlining resources and power consumption.

Manufacturers will also use digital twins to implement robotics on the factory floor, allowing them to map out the logistics of robot traffic flow efficiently. With 5G in smart factories, large fleets of robots can communicate and navigate with virtually no network lag. Thanks to the low latency, the robots will be safer for employees to work around. Surveys show 94% of manufacturers expect the swift network performance of 5G in manufacturing to improve both human and machine productivity.

5G in smart factories will also help maintain safety and performance, even when engineers can’t be on site. With 5G, engineers can perform remote maintenance and remotely monitor manufacturing systems much easier and more effectively than they could with slower generations of network connectivity. As a result, remote work will be much more functional with 5G.

The rapid data processing capabilities of 5G won’t just make smart factories more efficient — it will also make them safer for employees. For example, IoT sensors could be placed throughout a manufacturing facility to monitor environmental conditions such as air quality, temperature and the presence of fumes or smoke. With 5G, the data from these sensors can rapidly process in real-time, allowing for quicker response times to potential hazards.

Finally, 5G in manufacturing will enable the mainstream adoption of emerging technologies like VR and augmented reality. These developments could be revolutionary for training and job performance in the future. New employees could learn to repair industrial robots using an augmented reality or mixed reality tutorial that projects the repair process over the real-world robot.

The Road to 5G in Manufacturing

When will 5G in manufacturing become mainstream? 5G networks are already beginning to pop up in various industries in 2022, but they may become the standard at the end of the decade. As more electronics and network providers offer support for 5G, the technology will become more streamlined and widely available. As manufacturers look to the future, now is the time to start planning for 5G adoption. This technology is no longer on the horizon — it is already here.

Author: Emily Newton – Editor-in-Chief