How 5G technology will transform manufacturing

October 21, 2022



The rollout of 5G is on course to take manufacturing into the fourth industrial revolution with faster sharing of data and unparalleled automation. But, what opportunities will it bring and how can you make the most of 5G in Manufacturing.

5G has been described as one of the key enablers of the fourth industrial revolution, and it is set to radically transform the manufacturing sector over the coming years. Together with other innovations, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), 5G will become instrumental in orchestrating all routine activities on the shop floor.

By eliminating the need for wired or previous-generation wireless technology, 5G will empower the rise of lean and agile manufacturing. Advanced robotic systems equipped with a range of sensors will collect valuable data to feed to powerful cloud-hosted analytics engines to carry out predictive maintenance and continuously improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). A 5G-enabled factory offers the potential to connect virtually everything.

How does 5G compare to last-generation tech?

While 4G and WiFi make it possible to capture valuable information from people and assets, their limited range and bandwidth make them less suitable for use in complex manufacturing environments. For example, 4G can only support around 4,000 connected devices per square kilometre, while 5G can support up to a million. Due to the much higher radio frequencies used by 5G, it is also possible to transfer exponentially more data, and at far greater speeds.

One of the most important features of 5G in manufacturing is network slicing. This refers to the use of network virtualisation to divide a single 5G network into multiple individual logical networks to accommodate different types of traffic. Much like server or desktop virtualization, this allows for optimal use of resources, such as bandwidth, to suit a given application and SLA-specific factors.

For example, you might have one network for handling machine-to-machine communications, one dedicated to mission-critical functions like industrial control systems, and another for everyday mobile broadband access.

Adding context to data with the right software

The rollout of 5G technology in factories will further accelerate the rise of big data. With more connected devices, manufacturers will end up collecting more data than ever to the point they can quickly end up being overburdened. To make that data useful for analytics, it is necessary to add context and apply machine learning models that can parse it at the increasingly massive scales demanded by modern manufacturing environments.

For example, when a machine starts, it may trigger an alert in the connected sensor. However, receiving an alert every time a machine starts might be overwhelming and unnecessary. To make those alerts useful, it is important to add context. In other words, you need to consider the question of whether or not the alert is useful. Is the machine starting a good thing or a bad thing? The most likely answer is that it depends, but the right software can provide a far more useful answer than that.

Implementing the right software environment can add context and meaning to data collected throughout the organisation. Machine time servitisation captures data from people, processes, and systems on the shop floor and pulls it into their shop floor data collection (SFDC), business intelligence, and ERP systems, before applying high-level analytics to help make sense of it. For example, if the machine is starting up at an unusual time of day, then it might send out an alert. If the event is likely to cause disruption, then the software should be able to determine the impact on the rest of the schedule. This also automates a degree of the decision-making involved by determining factors like which resources might be needed to complete a process or how long it should take.

This is just one example of how 5G-enabled sensors can keep administrators informed with real-time insights while automating routine decision-making at machine speed. Machines may also be equipped with sensors for temperature, air pressure, and humidity, but no one is going to want to monitor an endless data feed for anomalies. Instead, the right software allows you to set parameters and thresholds so that the right people receive the right alerts at the right times.

Shifting from reactive to proactive

The capabilities of 5G to connect more devices and greatly increase network bandwidth make it easier for administrators to maintain complete visibility into everything that happens on the shop floor. For example, if a sensor records temperature or pressure readings above the pre-defined threshold, the system can take corrective action at machine speed, rather than waiting for someone to do so manually. Add artificial intelligence capabilities into the mix, and it’s also possible to perform predictive maintenance routines based on previous activities.

When a sensor reading points to a machine being at risk, before it actually malfunctions, it is possible to shift from reactive to proactive maintenance. Given that many manufacturing plants have highly expensive specialised equipment in service, this change can greatly reduce costs and disruptions to project schedules. The secret lies in having the sensors, network bandwidth, and real-time insights required to make that possible.

Another important application of 5G in manufacturing is mobile asset location and calibration tracking. 5G enables location tracking with an accuracy of 10cm, as opposed to 5 metres for WiFi and around 30 metres for 4G. This makes connected tools and other assets much easier to track, since everything can be monitored from a centralised, cloud-based dashboard.

Together, these benefits and use cases of 5G technology on the shop floor reduce the need for rework or to replace damaged components. With a private 5G network, it is possible to garner real-time insights into every workflow, device, and worker to ensure quality assurance and continuously improve efficiency.

How to get started with 5G in manufacturing

Modern manufacturers already collect a huge amount of data, and the adoption of 5G will only continue to accelerate that. What you need to avoid is a situation where the sheer amount of data becomes difficult, if not impossible, to manage. To prevent this from happening, you need a software partner that can help you maximise your return on investment and reap the many important benefits of 5G technology. After all, having lots of data is a good thing, but you also need to know what that data means and have an efficient way of managing it.

Fitfactory empowers lean manufacturing with the UK’s first private 5G networks designed to accommodate the unique needs of the shop floor. We are your dependable software partners for your 5G factory projects. Get in touch today to find out more.

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