by Michael Colomb

In an era of economic volatility, shorter business and product life cycles, and decreasing margins, manufacturing businesses, like many others, are searching for innovations to drive productivity and profitability.

The need for increased efficiency paired with recent technological advancements has catapulted the manufacturing industry into a period of significant growth and transition. However, such enhanced computing capabilities require greater connectivity, something which current 4G networking solutions are insufficient to offer.

The 5th generation of mobile networks, otherwise known as 5G, has shown remarkable potential for connectivity, particularly in supporting IoT (Internet of Things). I’ve previously written about the history of 5Ghow it works, and how it is poised to revolutionize both transportation and healthcare. Its impact on the future of manufacturing is no less significant.

The global 5G market is expected to reach $251 billion by 2025. With faster speeds and reliable connectivity, 5G can effectively provide lasting solutions to many issues faced by the manufacturing industry.

5G and Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is currently on the verge of its fourth industrial revolution — aptly termed Industry 4.0 as coined by the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum in 2015 — which consists of wholesale digitization of all aspects of the manufacturing process. With this digitization comes the benefits of interconnectivity, bringing a more comprehensive approach to the manufacturing value chain. Industry 4.0 brings together IoT, IoS (Internet of Systems), and real-time data to provide control, insight, and productivity to every aspect of a business’s operations. Imagine automated processes, smart factories, and agile infrastructures, and much more.

5G is rapidly becoming the connecting force, serving as the intermediary medium of data transfer between every component of the new manufacturing ecosystem. Here are just some of the ways that 5G will impact manufacturing:

Enhanced Data Collection

The era of ‘Big Data’ is well and truly upon us; companies in the manufacturing industry are increasingly using organizational data to draw valuable insights to boost operational intelligence.

The use of data analytics in manufacturing isn’t new — IDC’s industry-wide survey revealed that over 51% of respondents expect to generate revenue with the help of data analytics projects.

From improving manufacturing processes through advanced analytics to ensuring quality assurance with tens of thousands of tests for predictive analysis — organizations derive considerably high ROI through big data analytics.

Modern-day manufacturing is based on various devices working together, which translates to bulk data creation on a daily basis. 5G’s low latency, coupled with its high bandwidth capacity, can allow this increased collection of data to be transmitted and analyzed faster. For complex processes used in manufacturing, the ability to derive high quality data-driven insights is a clear competitive advantage at scale.

Increased Automation

Ultra-computing capabilities afforded by 5G will enable manufacturers to design robots that benefit from real-time decision making and increased data integration.

Industrial robots aren’t hard to find; a PwC report highlights that more than half (59%) of manufacturers are already utilizing some kind of robotics.

The auto manufacturing industry, for instance, has already started using collaborative robots (co-bots) to complete tasks that are ill-suited for humans. Such tasks include reaching into tight spaces and working in dangerous positions/conditions. Nokia’s factory in Finland uses telepresence robots to track and troubleshoot on the factory floor.

The integration of 5G will lead to businesses adopting futuristic applications such as connected devices that are able to sense the environment and make informed, yet decentralized decisions.

Leverage Augmented Reality For Troubleshooting

Modern-day factories and manufacturing units are home to advanced technological solutions designed to overcome many problems — and one such solution is augmented reality.

Technicians can make use of augmented reality solutions to identify issues more quickly and solve them more effectively. At Ericsson, augmented reality tools enable technicians to share information in a hands-free environment. This saves not only considerable time but also allows important data sharing between disparate production sites.

Of course, this level of data transfer requires increased bandwidth and decreased latency. Without 5G, companies find their technical experts spending more of their time performing non-valuable activities such as referencing documents, finding and linking different schematics, and communication and training across sites.

5G enables manufacturing organizations to extract the potential of augmented reality solutions, ultimately leading to increased productivity.

Supply Chain Unification

The focal point of the fourth industrial revolution is to digitalize the modern manufacturing unit, introducing a greater degree of automation and the advent of smart devices. On the supply chain side, 5G enables supply chains to transition from a series of independently managed locations to an increasingly connected network of devices that share knowledge in real-time. Additionally, as manufacturing units become “smarter” with the integration of smart devices, 5G enables advanced communication capabilities between devices, unifying the production process.

At Sprint, this unification has reduced costs by billions of dollars, in part due to innovation in their reverse logistics operation, aka the return of used devices. “What I mean by a unified supply chain at Sprint is one that’s incorporated in all the elements of corporate strategy and that supports fundamental consumer demand, at the lowest possible cost,” says the VP of Products and Supply Chain.

In A Nutshell

The first industrial revolution was powered by manual labor and animals, the second by steam and electricity, the third by electronics, and the fourth by interconnectivity.

Despite the high costs to upgrade both infrastructure and human capital, it’s an exciting time for manufacturing, as 5G’s unprecedented speed and coverage will bring the world closer than ever as well as provide an avenue for never-before-imagined capabilities across the manufacturing space.

As I’ve stated in the past, we at DZS are bullish on 5G’s prospects and have been building out a robust portfolio of products in this space.