5G and Manufacturing Operations

Amid Covid-19, the manufacturing sector has been forced to find new and innovative ways to operate safely and efficiently—yet the challenges facing the sector before the pandemic still remain. Exacerbated by an ageing workforce, significant skill gaps exist but taking workers off the factory floor for extended training periods is no longer viable: due to the pressure of shrinking margins. 

Automation and digitisation, however, offer the promise of increased efficiency and worker safety. It also facilitates a more sustainable workforce within a high output industry. Historically, processes haven’t been designed with energy efficiency in mind but as the priorities of key customers change, the industry must adapt. And 5G is here to facilitate this. 

5G connected factories offer unparalleled insights, controls and the ability to create digital twins to optimise the factory from the production line to warehousing, all in real-time. 5G-enabled augmented and virtual reality can be used to assist and upskill workers on-site, reducing carbon emissions by minimising the need for workers to travel to training sites; or for skilled engineers to visit a site for repairs or support. 5G networks also offer the ability to take automation to the next level. Low-latency and high-bandwidth facilitate the deployment of remotely controlled automated mobile robots, which act as a far more agile, and therefore efficient, alternative to traditional automated guided vehicles. 

How Could 5G Benefit the Operations of Manufacturing?

Connected Factory

5G can support between 10 and 100 more connected devices per km2 than 4G and handle up to 1,000 times more data volume. Not only that but it can enable up to 10 years of battery life for low power machine-type sensors. This means you can have more sensors, data and most importantly, insight and control in real-time over your entire factory operations. Data from 5G-enabled sensors across machines and the factory floor help to automate processes and speed up a more effective understanding of machine capacity, thereby improving operational efficiency. This, in turn, can help to reduce costs such as energy, supporting the transition to more sustainable operations, all while maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for workers.

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

Where has this been done?
Glass Factory

A fully connected factory enables manufacturers to understand exactly where parts are during the production process and allows customers a window into the factory. By feeding data into a digital dashboard, customers can understand, influence and even lead connected work cells. This facilitates new business models, centred on the accuracy of customer deliveries based on machine time, also known as “machining by the hour”. The end result is greater insight and operational efficiencies for the manufacturer, while offering customers more predictability and control from the get-go.  

Where has this been done?
Worker Support, Training & Assisted Navigation

5G’s high bandwidth and low latency transforms worker support and training. AI-powered guidance, real-time collaboration over ultra high-definition video—or immersive augmented and mixed reality experiences—can be extremely useful for assembly, maintenance and inspection activities, as well as navigating around a warehouse to find a specific part. 5G-enabled digital instructions can be fed directly to a worker at the point of use via devices such as wireless hand-held tablets and personal headsets. Hexagon found that one-third of manufacturers find comparing parts to spec difficult. With AR, this can be drastically simplified. 

To enable such interventions within a manufacturing environment, requires reliable, highly secure real-time wireless data transfer, especially as employees move throughout the floor. Additionally, wireless connectivity must provide extremely accurate positioning and the ability to handle a high density of connected devices anywhere in the factory.  5G is the perfect solution and can offer more detailed support for workers—removing the need to leave the factory floor, reducing time wasted looking for parts, instructions or designs, and decreasing the need to send specialised experts to site.

Where has this been done?
Digital Twins

5G promises manufacturers fewer mistakes and reduced time to market. Using data from sensor networks, factories can be replicated in a digital twin that not only grants a full-factory view of all operations but offers manufacturers the ability to run “what if?” scenarios and test changes in a virtual environment (this could be used, for example, to design a new plant for a production line). Businesses can quickly assess the impact of changes and minimise costly downtime and recalibrations. According to a survey from LNS research, 25% of manufacturing executives surveyed said they believe a digital twin could help increase throughput, while Hexagon found that digital twins can deliver a 10% reduction in rework. 

Where has this been done?
High Precision Mobile Asset Location Tracking

In factories and warehouses

Just-in-time manufacturing demands a reduction in waste at all levels, including wasted time and motion. This can include the hours spent waiting for goods to arrive or moving around vast factories and warehouses searching for the tools or materials needed. Keeping track of components, products and expensive equipment in the factory is a critical but often manual and time-consuming process. If assets are not located in time, there is a risk of project and production delays. 5G is here to track time-sensitive assets with pinpoint accuracy, using sensors and cameras on robots to drive operational efficiency. 

Where has this been done?
Factory Automation: Robots

5G networks offer manufacturers the chance to take automation to the next level, deploying smarter, more collaborative and agile robots. Its high bandwidth and connection density means 5G delivers ubiquitous connectivity: enabling robots to undertake simultaneous and more complex tasks alongside automated quality inspections, which allows for shorter lead times and drives operational efficiencies. This isn’t about replacing human workers; we are utilising the unique characteristics of 5G to better harness the potential of robots and cobots, freeing up human workers to spend their time where they can have the greatest impact.

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

Where has this been done?
Factory Automation: AGVs, AVs and AMRs

Powered by 5G networks, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) drive operational efficiency, ensuring safer and more agile deployment by way of more response data, collision detection sensors, real-time connections and human remote control. The advanced connectivity and low latency offered by 5G additionally assists simultaneous localisation, along with the mapping and moving of stationary robots that can identify the nearest transport asset. AMRs can also be equipped with sensors that monitor conditions in the factory.  The end result? Seamless flow of goods, materials and data throughout the factory, powered by 5G, delivered by machine.

Where has this been done?
Tracking & Monitoring of Tools & Machine Parts

5G increases productivity, reduces downtime and facilitates compliance. With the high bandwidth 5G offers, it is possible to deliver ultra high-definition video feeds and deploy a greater density of sensors, creating the opportunity to connect and monitor tools and machine parts.  As a result, the location, use and performance of individual tools can be tracked to oversee calibration, usage and faults. This can enable predictive maintenance to minimise downtime, increase productivity and help manufacturers understand what tools are really needed. 

Where has this been done?
Enhanced Worker Safety

Manufacturing is a heavily regulated industry where safety, security, and standards are paramount. 5G networks with their reliability and low latency can power a range of technologies and solutions that will ensure workers are able to safely operate tools and machines and navigate their surrounding environment. Vital for both employee wellbeing and productivity, solutions include, but are not limited to, tracking engineers’ movements, hazard detection and the monitoring of environmental variables such as gas levels. 

Where has this been done?
Remote Factory Visits

The high-output manufacturing industry is facing the great challenge of sustainability. Yet 5G’s ultra-low latency and high bandwidth facilitate remote manufacturing visits via robots and UHD video, which not only minimises costs but also overall carbon footprint. 

Where has this been done?
Surveillance & Security

Manufacturing businesses need certainty that their networks will maintain a stable and secure connection at all times for critical tasks such as surveillance. Public 5G networks can be effectively sliced to guarantee portions of bandwidth for certain mission-critical processes or data-flows, without impacting the rest of the network. While private standalone networks guarantee ubiquitous connectivity for manufacturers.  Whichever route to 5G you choose, the added bandwidth and improved latency of 5G means AI and automated security tools (such as video surveillance) can be layered on top of the sliced network:  increasing security in factories and across the supply chain. 

Where has this been done?
Automated Order Reporting

Running out of parts can bring production to a halt, impacting overall customer satisfaction. But with a 5G-connected factory, automated systems can send a trigger notification to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) when assembly stations are about to run out of parts. To do this, you need to know the status, state and location; 5G is here to help.

Have you seen this being deployed? Let us know!