5G and IoT: Unlocking Next-Gen Manufacturing
5G is grabbing headlines across consumer markets with mobile network operators generating buzz on the power of new content delivery services for ground-breaking smartphone applications. There is undoubtedly potential there, but 5G’s impact on commercial markets, especially industrial, will be of equal magnitude.
There is an array of connected ‘things’ existing and entering industrial environments including robotics, machines, equipment, workstations, tools, and increasingly workers. It’s fundamental that these complex environments and assets within them operate seamlessly to keep up with and gain advantages in competitive markets.
Yet current network and connectivity challenges for reliability and latency, are present bottlenecks to industrial companies moving at unprecedented rates. This includes physical challenges in current network deployments with many manufacturers using fixed-line networks. Reconfiguring this wiring is detrimental to changeover and set-up times, inhibiting manufacturers’ flexibility and agility, two requirements as customers increasingly demand customized products.
5G and wireless technology are destined to enter these industrial spaces and solve these challenges both physically and virtually.
5G improves bandwidth reliability and resiliency in industrial systems. Network packets in 5G ultra-reliable communication systems will hit service performance reliability expectations 99.99% of the time. The extremely low latency and correlating improved throughput with 5G will expand a variety of workloads while enabling new applications. Advancements in network slicing will usher in new ways of delivering applications to the 5G use cases they underpin.
These converging innovations will have a profound impact on industrial companies and manufacturers alike, with IoT and other supporting technologies only expediting innovation and business value within an organization’s walls and out in the field.
IoT is driving significant operational efficiencies and productivity gains in factories through insights across machines, people, and other assets. Complemented with 5G capabilities, IoT’s impact only grows.
Improved network reliability of IoT data exchanges between production lines, machines, and workers will bolster manufacturing KPIs such as operational equipment effectiveness and production volume. With 5G comes more foolproof, scalable and quickly useable IoT data of an asset, which could empower operators to decrease downtime, improve performance, or even inform other machines of prudent system information (quality checks, workflows). Think of a hydraulic pump informing a motor down the assembly line of real-time IoT performance data in a millisecond, its impact on the line’s speed and production volume.
Traditionally, some manufacturers can be hesitant to plug an asset into the IoT from concerns of unreliable connectivity to a mission-critical system in production. The reliability and lower latency of 5G opens previously black-boxed yet crucial systems and factory floor assets to the IoT and the performance efficiency benefits that come with it.
Coupling in this sub-micro second speeds with network-splicing ushers in a wide-range of IoT functionality from the edge to the cloud. Innovation at the factory edge includes increasingly sophisticated robotics bootstrapped with a variety of sensors, such as cameras. A robot on a production line equipped with a computer vision application to identify quality defects in a part requires extremely low latency and substantial bandwidth to run this complicated workload with real-time automated decision-making. 5G frees up the pipeline for more of these complex but extremely valuable applications, where complementing data feeds like IoT and AI must operate in the real-time. Manufacturers can prioritize bandwidth for these latency-sensitive mission-critical systems while running less-critical connectivity applications (mobile Wi-Fi) on a different spectrum.
5G also scales the functionality of the cloud down to the factory floor. With more reliable and seamless connectivity for on-prem mission-critical functions comes the opportunity to run workloads in the cloud. It doesn’t have to be a ‘cloud-or-nothing’ deployment; a manufacturer might not want to run a physical PLC’s entire functionality virtually in the cloud but could now delegate some bi-directional management and analytics off-site (reboots, software updates, memory). Implementing this deployment and layer of control on a factory-level could substantially lower CAPEX.
Remote Sites, Assets, and Products
In today’s world, an industrial organization’s operations must extend out-of-the-factory and into the real-world where its assets and customer-facing products live. Seamless network connectivity across the dispersed geographies has typically been challenging and an inhibitor to adoption of innovative technologies and the lucrative data they generate, including telemetry via the IoT.
Automakers are teaming up to embed 5G connectivity in their vehicles and generate cross-model cellular-vehicle-to-everything applications, leveraging IoT location for automated emergency braking and platooning. For manufacturers with industrial equipment running mission-critical systems like Howden, 5G could alleviate compute restraints enabling powerful real-time simulation models on IoT data for innovative digital twins use cases like predictive maintenance to further reduce asset downtime.
5G will empower workers at remote sites; freeing up bandwidth for more complex computer vision workloads such as in augmented reality. For example, a service technician with a headset could use AI-powered object recognition to identify spare parts of a machine or even use IoT data understand the issue and service it remotely by sending an OTA software update or reboot it. Maximizing 5G bandwidth at the edge can also improve remote an asset’s lifespan by reducing battery usage.
5G and IoT: Better Together
With digital transformation, industrial companies are turning to technology for more granular insights to inform higher-level strategic decisions. Leveraging 5G as the ‘information highway’ to make IoT data increasingly useful across an organization’s value chain will propel a range of next-generation use cases. Democratizing IoT data through widespread accessibility provides a resource to leverage in additional futuristic use cases and another layer of value, such as computer vision in AI and augmented reality. IoT gives 5G the lucrative data source of billions of connected things, while 5G gives IoT the reliable and timely means to get it where it matters, making the two ‘better together’.
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This article was written by David Immerman. He is a business analyst on PTC’s Corporate Marketing team providing thought leadership on technologies, trends, markets, and other topics. Previously David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation space and automotive technology markets, including fleet telematics, connected cars, and autonomous vehicles. He also spent time researching IoT-enabling technologies and other industry verticals including industrial. Prior to 451 Research, David conducted market research at IDC.