Industry 4.0, also called the fourth industrial revolution, is thriving on the technical and digital transformation across all the future smart factories by blending computing power with sensor and machine technologies. Imagine a more agile, automated manufacturing, fully connected experience from production, design to distribution with AI: 5G and machine learning that will help factories speed toward this reality.
With the current state of the world emphasizing the importance of our most important products, the factory’s ability to manufacture them stands out as critical. For that, currently, factories are ongoing massive changes in their employed technology. Although, even after deploying versatile advanced machines and automation, factories still rely on Ethernet cables to send secure information.
But imagine how much more value these devices might have if they were associated with and operated by dependable wireless networks. The response is a resounding yes!
This is where 5G comes into play by delivering an array of solutions and innovations to factories to increase their operations, capabilities, boost agility, and freeing wire dependency.
Future Smart Factories Going Wireless And Being Smarter
As the world’s fastest and most efficient networking enabler, 5G can offer a wide range of creative use cases to improve factory capabilities and agility while removing wire dependency. However, since connecting cables to any computer and sensor in a factory are not feasible, a significant part of 5G’s wireless value would come down to basic practicality for the typical factory tethering its equipment with internet cables. Wireless technology, such as 5G, would be a game-changer in this area.
Processes can become smarter and less static in a wireless world, becoming increasingly important in today’s factories. “Of course, there is an interest in having flexibility,” says AfifOsseiran, vice-chair of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) board.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example: If you build cars and then decide the next day that you want to make masks — if you have a lot of cables — [rejigging the production] would take a lot longer and be more expensive.” Wireless connectivity provided by 5G would fully eliminate this problem, transforming how we run manufacturing plants for the better.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can operate on factory floors in the future, fetching parts, collecting scrap, and freeing up staff for more essential tasks by taking over less-critical jobs. Meanwhile, sensors installed in 5G-enabled facilities can track manufacturing processes and collect data from feedback machines and production managers. This will significantly improve operational speed, maintenance capabilities (through increased awareness or even warning before failures occur), and protection.
Indeed, the incredibly low latency and efficiency of 5G would ensure that, in the not-too-distant future, many of the robots vital to future factories will operate as non-human colleagues, assisting their human coworkers in their day-to-day operations. In other words, the age of “collaborative robots” is just around the corner. The possibilities will only expand from there.
Creating Vital Links
Another critical aspect of what 5G technology can bring to factories is that it will go beyond the shop floor. 5G would allow facilities to remain automatically up to date with evolving order trends or logistical problems (for example) through the cloud, connecting computers, sensors, and staff on manufacturing sites and factories themselves to the outside world.
From That Time And Now
However, despite the significant advancements that 5G is expected to bring to manufacturing facilities, the road ahead will not be without bumps. Given that 5G is only in its early stages, there are a few significant obstacles ahead of us. One of the most important is how we’ll “present this new way of connecting our devices on the shop floors of “brownfield factories.”
With various legacy computer parks and platforms that will need retrofitting, Brownfields account for more than 90% of today’s manufacturing sites.
“It would justify the investment if we can find a model to combine [5G] with these factories’ current IT solutions, and we have an ecosystem of use cases to build up. For example, making ABB motors and robots natively connected to the 5G network as ‘plug ‘n play’ would speed up adoption.”
The Future Of 5G In Future Smart Factories
Thankfully, the move toward 5G-connected factories has already started, and Ericsson plays a crucial role in making it happen. For example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, ABB and Swisscom demonstrated some of the capabilities of 5G remote-controlled robots. Visitors were invited to draw on tablets, which converted into coordinated robotic gestures writing messages in sand 1.5 kilometers away in real-time.
It sounds entertaining, but consider what this type of remote control might do in an industrial environment. Companies would be able to enlist the assistance of experts without needing their presence on-site, which would cut down on travel (and its related financial and environmental costs) and speed up problem-solving and solution generation, resulting in smarter operations overall.
These are only a few examples of how 5G can make factories more versatile and competitive than ever. And the increased mobility and improved operations that advanced wireless networking will offer will be a critical component of success in our ever-changing world, both now and in the future. And 5G is the key to making it possible.
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