5G, the fifth generation of cellular wireless technology, is poised to begin helping transform the way the manufacturing industry operates. Through unprecedented speed, low latency, and bandwidth capacity, 5G using millimeter wave spectrum (5G+) can enable manufacturers do more with the mega expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as collect more data, and compute more information faster to make better business decisions. It can also be a catalyst for your own innovation—both in the creation and quality of products, and in how these products are delivered into the supply chain.
Addressing Wi-Fi Capacity Limitations
From IoT and numerous other sources, you get data. Lots of data. This is great for the digitally transforming factory, however, the data generated and the increased number of computations per microsecond challenges the limits of what Wi-Fi was designed for. In order for the factory to adopt a digital transformation strategy, it’s necessary for the network that supports it to keep pace with the technology that depends on it. The technologies of Network Edge Computing (NEC) and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) offer the interim step to 5G and address Wi-Fi capacity limitations that inhibit manufacturers from optimizing operations, addressing workforce challenges, and providing more reliable service to customers and the supply chain.
As manufacturers adopt an intelligent infrastructure – one that uses machine learning, prediction, analysis, and self-correction to operate – 5G will support smarter integration and analysis of the data that’s generated by sensors. With so many interconnected technologies and endpoints (including robotics, mobility, and field-related applications), users need highly reliable – and highly secure – computer power to process the large blocks of data.
5G will help provide the highly secure foundation to efficiently move data out of corporate silos while also helping to ensure it stays safely within the walls of the facility. This goes beyond the mega expansion of IoT and into implementing smarter integration and analysis of data that’s generated by sensors. With so many interconnected technologies that are dependent upon these and other endpoints – including that generated through robotics, mobility, and field-related applications, an increased level of reliability for the large blocks of data that must be transferred is required. 5G will ultimately provide the power and consistency needed for the intelligent infrastructure to breathe a new level of life into the possibilities manufacturers can explore to produce new products, services, and realize greater operational efficiencies.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
For the successful adoption and sustainability of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), which is also known as mixed reality or spatial computing when used together, both edge computing and a highly secure 5G network are critical. 5G will eventually enable manufacturers to achieve new levels of factory optimization through AR and VR. These technologies can display overlays to help to guide workers through production steps for intricate assembly processes. They can also help train new employees and potentially shorten their
learning curve. In addition, manufacturers can direct operators located in the field and across the through repair procedures, potentially reducing the costs of dispatched or third-party labor.
Other uses for these technologies in manufacturing include remote worker assistance, inspection and final approval, navigating complex processes through voice commands, picking process in shipping and receiving. The possibilities for AR/VR and Spatial Computing continue to grow and 5G will provide the foundation in its next evolution.
Metrology/Non-Contact Metrology and Video as a Sensor
The precise tolerances needed in manufacturing can be protected both by metrology and non-contact metrology. The data from this technology can reside at the edge of a network that can also carry the demand for consistent measurements and big data analytics that are required in near-real time. 5G with MEC is a reliable solution that can also help facilitate the integration of related applications and processes. In addition, 5G-enabled video-as-a-sensor technology supports applications such as near-real-time situational awareness and foreign object debris detection.
5G will enable virtually seamless streaming so users can simultaneously use this data-intense application in more places throughout the factory. This can eventually translate into higher integrity alerts and faster response times. Integrating video-based technology with IoT adds another layer of analytics to industrial manufacturing. Manufacturers can improve safety protocols with more sensitivity and insight into anomaly detection that can help reduce defects, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.
Autonomous-guided vehicles (AGVs) that move through a factory floor, yard, or warehouse calculate billions of bits of data to process instructions and make intelligent decisions to navigate safely. With such heavy demand on the network, Wi-Fi alone can’t deliver the reliability, bandwidth, or support required for virtually seamless performance. 5G eventually will. MEC can provide the foundation for data to flow from the edge of the network where it’s more easily accessible for prioritized processes. Coupled with 5G to handle the volume of data from sensors, endpoints, and other sources, AGVs will ultimately be able to communicate with their interface to avoid collisions, help avoid mistakes, and carry out their assignments.
Digital Twin Technology
Digital twin technology can provide a view into the most complex machines. In factory floor and operations planning, digital twins help engineers design layout and flow before making costly installations and changes. In both of these scenarios, as well as others where this technology is used in manufacturing, 5G will eventually offer the capacity to integrate physical and virtual assets for tremendous, cost-saving flexibility.
“Digital twin technology enabled with the capabilities of 5G and MEC can really help our customers achieve their operational efficiency and productivity goals. Deeper insights into machine performance by remote AR, scenarios for flexible plant floor production lines, and virtual commissioning are some of the newer applications that customers are leveraging with this enhancing capability” comments Hugh Arif Industry Solutions Architect, AT&T Business.
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