As everything from our day-to-day activities to manufacturing to consumption has entered the digital age, intelligently automated yet interconnected industrial production—also known as Industry 4.0 and smart factory—is gaining ground. However, given the gravity of this evolution, innovation is key to successfully bringing automation across sectors.
In automation and interconnectivity, high-speed wireless communication plays a significant role, as it acts like a bridge between seamless yet scalable connectivity and machines, sensors, and users. It also connects the Internet of Things (IoT), robots, drones, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Another benefit comes in the form of eliminating cables from devices with limited mobility.
The expansion of Industry 4.0 has hastened the demand for faster and more secure connectivity. The fifth-generation cellular network (5G) offers the stability and speed to connect all these devices and then fetch and analyze the data.
5G for Industrial Applications, a new study by ABI Research, predicts widespread adoption of 5G technology in the manufacturing sector by 2028. The study also reveals that the manufacturing industry alone will generate 25% of the total revenue in the 5G global market.
Advantages of 5G in Industrial Automation
Faster and reliable digital connectivity
5G, the successor to the fourth-generation cellular network (4G), enables faster data transfer over the internet. Not only does 5G enhance the digital connectivity of users but also the connectivity of sensors and other IoT devices. 5G offers data transfer rates at 20Gbps with a low latency of one millisecond or, in other words, without any delay.
More than anything else, 5G is nearly as reliable as wired connectivity and makes it possible to conduct critical communications in real time. This sets the groundwork for a reliable, faster, and secure operation of applications and devices. Moreover, 5G offers new opportunities where other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi will not be sufficient.
Currently, the number of IoT devices connected to the internet is many times greater than the number of actual human netizens. Recent research predicts that IoT devices worldwide will cross 31 billion units by 2025, a sharp rise from roughly 14 billion units in 2021. This additional number of connected devices is mainly used in industrial applications and automation.
Several IoT companies are investing a great amount on 5G technology research, as they realize it can revolutionize the automated and connected smart factories of the future. Thus, adopting 5G technology is crucial in gaining a competitive edge in today’s market. However, if a business fails to adopt it early enough, it will be left behind in the market.
Also read: Best Enterprise 5G Network Providers 2022
Secured, enhanced, and flexible production
In a smart factory with 5G networking, only walls, ceiling, and floor will be the immovable components. Every other part will be scalable, portable, and easily reconfigurable. 5G networking creates a wireless yet high-performing infrastructure that enables efficient communication between machinery, people, and facilities.
Moreover, 5G technology allows the implementation of new industrial manufacturing concepts. It also has the potential to streamline gadgets and workforces in the field of industrial production and logistics.
Guaranteed data sovereignty
With the advent of 5G technology, industrial production lines got the first-time opportunity to set up, operate, and tailor local networks precisely for industrial applications. Additionally, it allows users to bring every relevant security aspect under their control. In this way, businesses can reduce cybersecurity and enterprise risks by guaranteeing data sovereignty.
More straightforward conversion to 5G technology
It is true that 5G technology accelerates data transmission speed among IoT devices and gives an extra boost to Industry 4.0. Everything from logistics to production lines benefits from faster, real-time data transmission.
But all of this is only possible if the business installs 5G-enabled devices and networks in the first place. As a result, several globally leading IT companies have begun helping businesses implement 5G technology in industrial automation from scratch.
Practical Use Cases of 5G Technology in Industrial Automation
Here are five practical 5G technology use cases and the companies that are currently pioneering these innovative approaches.
Industrial process automation
Smart factories powered by 5G technology automates monotonous, labor-intensive, and dangerous tasks. This brings down human errors and the risk of fatal accidents and, at the same time, provides the workforce with more time to concentrate on critical tasks.
MTU Aero Engines, a German aircraft engine manufacturer, experimented with 5G technology and made their operations more efficient. The innovations include testing their applications on blade integrated disks (blisk), a high-tech jet engine component, and reducing the manufacturing time of blisks by 75% using a smart factory.
In smart factories, production lines can be monitored and controlled remotely without the need for workers or operators on the factory floor. With its high-speed data transmission and lower latency, 5G technology makes real-time remote monitoring easy.
To take a real-world example, Siemens installed its first real-time remote monitoring system for Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) in one of its factories in Mexico.
Industrial manufacturers have been employing robots for quite a long time, but the scene has totally changed with the advent of 5G technology.
Robots, designed to work alongside humans, are used mainly to move goods from one location to another. Previously, these robots were connected using a wired network, but 5G technology eliminated the wired network system and allowed faster and more efficient robotics.
KT Corp, South Korea’s leading telecom company partnered with Hyundai Engineering & Construction to develop 5G network infrastructure at construction sites. Their partnership has an objective to develop construction and automation technology. Along with that, they plan to deploy robots over the 5G infrastructure to boost productivity and efficient monitoring at construction sites.
A recent Wall Street Journal report states that unpredictable downtimes cost more than $50 billion each year for industrial manufacturers. HIROTEC, a globally leading automobile parts manufacturer, deployed an IoT cloud platform and edge analytics to get real-time visibility into the efficiency of its business operations.
HIROTEC deployed all these industrial automation initiatives over a 5G network as a way to leverage machine learning (ML) to predict and prevent downtime and mishaps. The result led to reduced downtime and accidents as well as the elimination of manual inspections.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has already made ripples in industrial manufacturing, particularly for spare parts and construction. The higher bandwidth and lower latency of 5G technology are revolutionizing the arena of construction.
For instance, Hadrian X, an autonomous bricklaying robot and the first of its kind in the world, does its job effortlessly, as it can quickly process massive amounts of data transferred over a 5G network.
When 3D printing is synchronized with the speed and low latency of 5G technology, a four-bedroom house can be printed 95% percent faster and up to 90% cheaper. So, now there are no limits to the imaginations of the construction companies and architects. They are now free to design and construct buildings beyond traditional design-to-cost limitations.
5G Technology: The Central Nervous System of Industry 4.0
The emergence of 5G technology will transform how Industry 4.0 produces and distributes goods and services. The key features of 5G technology, such as lower latency, higher reliability, and increased speed, support emerging technologies and their innovative approaches and applications in smart factories.
CNBC reports that by 2023, smart factories, mainly because of their efficiency and cost-effectiveness, will contribute more than $2 trillion to the global economy.
Read next: 5G and AI: Ushering in New Tech Innovation