Why 5G is the new line of assembly for smart factories and Industry 4.0
With the arrival of 5G, machines will be capable of processing information across the entire manufacturing process
For years, we’ve been consuming and processing information nearly everywhere we go with the help of mobile smart devices. With the arrival of 5G, factories will be made up of components that are just as connected, powerful and constantly updated.
Commonly referred to as “edge devices,” these new machines and modules will be capable of processing information across the entire manufacturing process, with the same speed, reliability and security we already expect from our phones—without the hanging commonly associated with mobile network, thanks to self-contained, on-site wireless.
5G is expected to be 10 times faster than 4G, and some experts say it could eventually be up to 100 times faster. 4G networks have a latency of around 100 milliseconds and 5G will reduce that at least tenfold.
Low latency means decisions can be made and reactions triggered in real time, avoiding costly machine failures and delays. With 5G, manufacturers can also use cellular technologies more securely and tune them to specific use cases (a process known as network slicing). By putting sensors on equipment connected to the 5G networks, they can take data off the manufacturing network without actually connecting to the machines, meaning optimizations can be made seamlessly, in real time.
“Today, when you pick up your phone and text somebody, that text leaves your location, goes all the way through a telco provider, through their switches, and then back to your recipient,” Meek said. “With the new 5G Max, you can keep all the data within the four walls of the factory, so you can deploy a wireless network and, depending on the wavelength, it can handle a million devices within a square kilometer, which is pretty huge.”
Integrating physical and virtual assets to form digital twins is another benefit of 5G. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object or system. Managers can use real-world data to see how certain scenarios impact these virtual objects. Like a crash test dummy, a virtual twin allows analysts to experiment on various components of the manufacturing process without having to pull real-world components out of production.
“5G plays a key role in linking product development into the actual production with cloud and edge,” said Lehtonen. “You can accelerate time to market because when you design a new product or make a change, you can actually simulate everything you’re going to have to do with the digital twin.
If the product has a sensor and is IoT-connected, the manufacturer can monitor how it behaves in the real world, making adjustments to the design that impact future production.
5G is poised to extend the reach and accessibility of each individual factory. Remote technicians will be able to control machinery from anywhere. Efficiency will surge as production lines are automated and optimized with data from multiple sources in constant communication. Worker safety will improve with real-time notifications and alarms in hazardous environments.
5G is quickly ushering in this new automated reality for factories, which will eventually result in each individual factory becoming a component in a larger “meta-factory.” Such networks of factories will be able to benefit from more data, each factory learning from all the others, and from universal control, with each component of the supply chain chugging along at optimal efficiency, all working together in harmony.
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