5G and Manufacturing Production

Despite its size, the manufacturing sector has struggled to grow for over a decade, owing largely to stagnant productivity. The sector is a particularly important driver of regional prosperity, responsible for over 17% of Wales’ total national output, and over 16% of the West Midlands. Businesses are therefore under pressure to become more agile and dynamic, both in the factory and throughout the supply chain. 

Thankfully, 5G is here to improve per-hour output: a survey by The Manufacturing Institute found that manufacturers expect 5G to initiate an estimated 42% increase in machine output, in addition to 41% for workers. 5G networks will play a fundamental role in meeting customer expectations and competing against offshore manufacturers.

While Industry 4.0 brings increased automation, 5G’s high bandwidth and ultra-reliable low latency communications take performance and efficiency to the next level, facilitating effective and seamless handover between human and machine. This can have a positive impact on production quality, too; the ability to monitor assembly at unprecedented levels of granularity and in real-time will save time, reduce waste and boost efficiency. What’s more, in an industry where safety, security and standards are paramount, increasing automation will remove and reduce risks to workers.

How Could 5G Help Production in Manufacturing?

Real-Time Monitoring of the Production Process

As products and customer needs evolve, manufacturing equipment and processes have become increasingly costly and complex. If a machine part isn’t aligned with millimetre perfection, for example, or there is a slight variation in factory temperature or humidity, the quality of products can be impacted. Alongside shrinking margins, this means uptime has to be maximised and performance optimised in order to remain profitable. 

Thanks to its high bandwidth, 5G offers the ability to simultaneously connect as many as a million devices per km2; sensors can therefore be deployed through all parts of the factory at a density not previously possible. The low latency of 5G also means that the data from these sensors and ultra-high-definition cameras can be viewed in real-time, offering unprecedented levels of insight at all levels—from the overall factory conditions to the settings and performance of individual machines' parts. This visibility is crucial for production lines: enabling early fault detection, ensuring correct conditions are maintained, and creating the ability to easily adjust the settings as required. The result is less wastage, reduced costs and a more productive factory floor.

Where has this been done?
Quality Control

Product quality has a direct impact on the bottom line: Forbes estimates that the cost of repairs, reworks, scrappage, service calls, warranty claims and write-offs falls between 10% and 20% of total revenues for the majority of manufacturers. The high bandwidth capabilities of 5G and subsequently, increased monitoring capabilities, can dramatically improve quality control, which improves efficiency and reduces costs. 5G networks power a range of industrial digital technologies to achieve this, including ultra-high-definition cameras and sensors that capture data sent to AI and Machine Learning systems—in addition to other innovative ways of working such as automated inspection robots and VR/AR enabling workers to more easily refer to CAD designs.

Deploying 5G presents a variety of opportunities that improve accuracy and as a result, produce less waste, increasing the sustainability of the sector and adhering to the priorities of key customers, including government contracts.

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

Where has this been done?
Factory Automation

The increased bandwidth and ultra-low latency offered by 5G facilitates more advanced automation than previously possible, introducing drones or robots that can multitask and undertake more complex tasks in precise settings. This can free up human workers to undertake more skilled work, protect them from potentially hazardous settings, improve factory efficiencies and boost productivity. The reliability of 5G also facilitates remote operation of robots, further boosting safety and agility. The ultimate end goal could even be a move to ‘dark factories’, where fully automated production lines don’t require lighting, saving huge amounts of energy.

Where has this been done?
Closer Working Between Humans & Machines

Increased automation on the factory floor inevitably means humans and machines working more closely together.  5G’s reliability and low latency are well suited for the wide-scale deployment of robots.  Such close working side by side can potentially be hazardous for workers but 5G’s ability to enable smarter, more reactive robots makes interactions between human and machine seamless, safe and effective. 

Where has this been done?

Assisting & Upskilling Workers

5G's enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) enables the streaming of Ultra HD video, AR/ VR and intelligent analytics, which can provide staff with immersive, interactive training and support via connected tablets or mixed reality, utilising real-time data. Amid an ageing workforce and lack of digital skills, 5G can help to decentralise expertise and therefore act as a lifeline for the sector. Instead of sending highly skilled workers to sites, mixed reality and connected devices can be used to provide insights and assistance at the point of operation. It can, for example, integrate digital work instructions with CAD designs to help engineers carry out complex assembly activities. Low latency instructions, enabled by 5G technology, could save about five seconds per instruction read compared with traditional methods. 

Worker Safety

Manufacturing is a heavily regulated industry where safety, security, and standards are paramount. With the introduction of robots and automated guided vehicles, the factory floor is becoming more complex with new potential risks to workers emerging.  5G  is here to supplement and expand on existing measures, enabling greater safety even in the face of increased complexity.  Ultra high-definition cameras provide real-time feeds of the production line and when coupled with Machine Learning, can identify tired workers and identify patterns or behaviours that might pre-empt an accident. Connected tools can monitor how workers are using machines or equipment and identify incorrect operations.  While the ultra-reliable low latency of 5G allows for robots to be able to rapidly respond to their surrounding environments and for remote operation of autonomous vehicles in the case of an emergency situation. 5G networks 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, which is vital for both employee wellbeing and productivity. 

Provisioning Products

The products being assembled in factories are not just ever-more complex, they are also increasingly software and firmware dependent. A modern car for instance typically requires the installation of 500 Megabytes of operating and control software that manages the power unit, infotainment and navigation systems. It is estimated that by 2025 the software install will have increased to more than 3 Gigabytes. And once provisioned with the initial software, technicians will often then need to run diagnostic tests on various elements of the product in question. Provisioning these products earlier in the production process drives operational efficiencies but can also open up the opportunity to then use the product’s connectivity itself for real-time tracking and location status. Traditionally this has been challenging when relying on the restrictions of wired connectivity and Wi-Fi does not provide the reliability required. With 5G’s ultra-reliability and increased speeds, connected products can be provisioned far earlier in the production process with fewer errors, stoppages and reinstallations: saving time and money.