How 5G will revolutionize manufacturing

Smart factories are the future of the manufacturing industry

by AT&T Business Editorial Team

It has been more than 200 years since the Industrial Revolution kickstarted the mechanized manufacturing industry, bringing mass-produced goods to market with the help of manufacturing IT solutions.

Now, with the arrival of 5G technology, the sector faces its biggest transformation yet.

The fourth Industrial Revolution, often referred to as “Industry 4.0,” will usher in smart factories. In these futuristic factories, connected devices can sense their environments and interoperate with each other, making decentralized decisions. Many expect this transformation to rely on the underlying capabilities of next-generation 5G networks.

The need for agile, fluid infrastructure is a consistent theme in Industry 4.0 discussions. As the devices in tomorrow’s factories grow and become more sophisticated, manufacturers understand that they must be able to adapt the networks that connect them quickly, reconfiguring them at will.

Tomorrow’s smart factories will be filled with sensors, each monitoring different aspects of the working environment. They will likely include connected tools, using information ranging from location to accelerometer data to understand where and how they are being used, to guide workers accordingly.

5G’s high capacity, wireless flexibility and low-latency performance make it a natural choice to support manufacturers in these environments. It promises to help them meet several challenges.

Gathering data

The first of these challenges involves gathering operational intelligence.

As networks grow and become smarter, they will produce far more information than their predecessors. Manufacturers that can capture and crunch this information could produce actionable intelligence that increases productivity.

5G’s low latency and high-bandwidth capabilities can support this increasing data flow.

Aside from increasing throughput, analyzed data can also help reduce downtime. 5G-connected sensors can channel real-time information about equipment performance, ranging from vibration to noise data.

Combined with machine learning algorithms, this data can help companies predict when expensive equipment is about to fail, reducing the likelihood of expensive downtime.

When the network gives us advanced warning that a piece of specialized equipment needs a repair, augmented reality using low-latency 5G-enabled headsets will make technicians more efficient. Level 1 technicians can travel to a site and have engineers at headquarters guide them through the repair process remotely via 5G networks, using context-sensitive 3D animations to walk them through the necessary steps.

New capabilities at the network edge

Finally, 5G will enable manufacturers to drive more functionality closer to the edge of the network.

Because this network technology’s reliability is so high and its latency so low, equipment can communicate wirelessly with back-end systems for time-critical operations in ways that were not possible before.

For the first time, this will combine fast production-line operations with the power of networked intelligence.

We can expect new capabilities such as advanced visual recognition using the power of deep learning neural networks in the cloud. This will allow robotic systems to visually inspect products for quality control purposes in real time, with a high degree of accuracy.

Unifying the supply chain

These smart factories will revolutionize the manufacturing process even further as they unify the entire supply chain.

The first waves of the industrial revolution were powered by steam, people, and later, silicon and software. The fourth wave will be powered by the network.

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