Use Cases of 5G in Factories

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5G in factories provides reliable connectivity and high bandwidth for exchanging data between Edge devices and the cloud. The low latencies enable fast decision-making. Results can be analysed immediately and the analysis data shared and made globally accessible. 5G improves its functionality and safety by lowering latency. It can support the necessary applications with significantly lower latency. It is one of the fastest, most robust technologies the world has ever seen. That means quicker downloads, much lower lag and a significant impact on how we live, work and play. 5G networks will provide 50x more speed, 10x less latency, and 1,000x more capacity than 4G/LTE. In this article, we will see some use cases of 5G in factories.

Qualcomm is the global 5G IP leader with more than 100 5G license agreements worldwide. Their investments in growing the mobile ecosystem are driving new opportunities for licensees. South Korea and China lead in 5G network coverage while Europe lags. Analysts expect 2022 to be a big year for capital spending by U.S. wireless service providers. Along with China, the United States is one of the biggest countries in the 5G industry. According to a recent Ericsson report, around 195mn 5G subscriptions are expected by 2026, with the technology accounting for 71.5 percent of the total US mobile market by 2029.

5G Tower Range

In general, the 5G Ultra-Wideband network’s signal can reach up to 1,500 feet without obstructions. Verizon is leveraging small cell technology to help deliver more 5G signals. The technology directly increases the coverage and speed of the network.

7 use cases for 5G in manufacturing

The emergence of 5G will greatly impact the way Industry 4.0 manufacturers, or “smart factories,” produce and distribute goods. The low latency, high reliability, and increased speed of 5G networks are necessary to support emerging technologies in factpories.

Here are seven use cases of 5G in factories and examples of companies that are pioneering these approaches today.

Process automation

Industry 4.0 and IoT have brought about the smart factory—a highly digitalized and connected environment. Here robots, machines, and devices can self-heal and run operations autonomously. One of the main benefits of the smart factory is its ability to automate repetitive, labor-intensive, and potentially dangerous tasks. Not only will this lessen human error and the risk of accidents but it will also give people more opportunities to take on more complex roles. 

German aircraft engine manufacturer MTU Aero Engines has been experimenting with 5G-based production technology to make their operations more efficient. They pilot-tested its applications on blade-integrated disks (blisk), which are high-tech components that are used for jet engines. These are milled out of solid pieces of metal, are extremely complex, and require the utmost accuracy to produce. 

The total lead time to create a blisk is around three to four months. With new 5G-enabled production technology (which involved sensors and IoT technology), the company was able to create an automated factory that could be managed through one network. This reduced the time for the process design phase by 75%. 

5G is one of the key enablers of these smart factories. It gives manufacturers the ability to create highly reliable systems. Systems that can sustain the web of information passing through various machines and devices. It is predicted that by 2023, the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of smart factories will add between US$1.5 trillion to US$2.2 trillion to the global economy.

2. Remote monitoring of production assets

Another benefit of smart factories is the ability to monitor and control production assets remotely. Operators do not need to be on the factory floor. They can instead keep track of operations in real-time through software systems. This means operators can easily locate and manage assets, gain actionable insights in real time. Additionally, configure the machinery to optimize safety, efficiency, and quality. 

While live monitoring has its benefits on the factory floor, it can also expedite certain SOPs outside of it. Siemens, for example, implemented its first live remote monitoring system for Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) in its Transformers factory in Mexico. Normally, customers must be physically present at the factory to conduct the FAT, but because of live monitoring, customers can conduct the FAT from their locations. 

This sort of environment relies heavily on connectivity. Siemens used 12 cameras transmitting high-quality videos in real-time—without a fast and stable connection, it would be difficult for both operators and customers to conduct the FAT without some sort of delay or potential for miscommunication. With 5G in factories, live streaming and remote monitoring will be more seamless, accurate, and secure, enabling operators to broaden their applications and troubleshoot problems as they happen. 

Collaborative robotics

Manufacturers employ a variety of robots for industrial tasks. Some robots can move products from one location to another. These robots are designed to work alongside humans in the warehouse. Most of these industrial robots are connected using a wired system as the data required to power a warehouse of robots cannot be supported by current wireless speeds. 

The emergence of 5G in factories will make robot use in manufacturing faster and more efficient without the heft or limitation of cables.

A company that makes use of collaborative robotics is Ocado, a UK-based online grocery market that claims to be one of the largest in the world. Their smart factory in Andover, England has over 1,100 robots12 picking up items from crates and delivering them to packing stations, fulfilling thousands of groceries orders every week. They travel along a grid using an air traffic control system. These robots do not collide with one another and travel up to 37 miles per day. They are said to pack 50 items in just five minutes. This amounts to 65,000 orders made by customers in a week. 

Such an operation would require huge volumes of data to be transmitted across several sensors to avoid real-time collisions. The speed and bandwidth of a 5G network would support robotic warehouses of this caliber. 

Analytics to predict breakdowns and downtimes

Unplanned downtimes are one of the great impediments to achieving maximum productivity for manufacturers. Studies have shown that unplanned downtimes are costing industrial manufacturers around US$50 billion13 each year, with equipment failures being the cause of 42% of these downtimes. Through connected systems and predictive analytics, manufacturers can predict and prevent unwanted downtimes. This is what global automobile parts manufacturer, HIROTEC, implemented in its factories. 

The Japanese manufacturer employed an IoT cloud platform and edge analytics and integrated these with its manufacturing systems to conduct a series of pilots. These pilots gave HIROTEC real-time visibility into its business operations to measure efficiency and then leveraged machine learning to predict and prevent failures in critical systems. This led to a 100% reduction in manual inspections.

Process automation and remote monitoring are all prerequisites to predictive analytics. 5G networks will ensure the reliability of information gathered from pilot tests and increase the accuracy of the predictions.

Augmented reality for repairs

The low latency and stable connectivity that 5G provides also enable augmented reality troubleshooting to repair electronic boards. Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson has been experimenting with Augmented Reality (AR) overlays in their factory in Tallinn, Estonia so technicians can repair electronic boards without referring to blueprints or word documents. 

The company found that technicians spend roughly half of their time on non-value add activities like finding and linking schematics with layout files when they were troubleshooting a faulty unit. They use AR to quickly identify parts of an electronic board that need to be fixed. This cuts the time it takes to create, edit, and update those documents, train technicians, and repair electronic boards significantly. 

Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is making significant impacts on the manufacturing industry. In particular, 3D printing is revolutionising spare parts management. 

Many warehouses maintain a huge inventory of spare parts for customers who are still operating older machines. Half of all orders shipped are one-time requests for spare parts. With predictive analytics, they can forecast the demand for spare parts and use a 3D printer to create the part on demand. This will reduce waste and the cost to store spare parts. 

American multinational home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool adopted 3D printing through a partnership with the Singapore service bureau Spare Parts 3D. They are using the technology to “combat obsolescence and fulfill part-shortage areas.” While this will result in cost-savings for the company, Whirlpool believes that the most significant outcome is the impact on customer care—customers can receive brand-new spare parts whenever they need them.  

The emergence of 5G can supercharge this process by enabling operators to connect with multiple standalone 3D printers. They can monitor and control the 3D printing processes remotely. 

Creation of new business models

The emergence of 5G also opens new business models in the manufacturing segment. The ability to control various devices through a mobile network allows operators to stretch their creativity to its limit. Drones, for example, are increasingly being used in smart factories for a breadth of tasks, from transporting materials across the factory floor to conducting aerial site audits. 

Drones require data networks to fly great distances. However, in the air, current LTE networks are prone to interferences, making it difficult to monitor and control drones. 5G networks should be able to resolve these issues and provide drones with the connectivity needed to be used outside the factory floor. 5G also enables network slicing, which means operators can use the same network infrastructure and segment them for various use cases. So, in case, the network is encumbered, the dedicated ‘slice’ for drones is protected and can maintain smooth operations. 

Amazon has been teasing its plans for a drone delivery system since 2013 as part of its push to reduce package delivery times for its customers. They recently announced that their Prime Air service will be ready within a “few months,” but that remains to be seen. But the fact that 5G makes this sort of service possible, makes us wonder what else the world of 5G has in store for us in the future. 

About the author:

Seema Joshi has been in the industry for the last 28 years, working on core design development for various Embedded Systems requiring RTOS. She has successfully completed various projects working on RTOS with Embedded System as the core.

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