There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the promise of 5G. Still in its infancy, the fifth generation of networks has already proven to be faster and more reliable than its predecessors, and from a business perspective, the opportunities for increased connectivity and performance are especially significant given the increased global need for digital experiences. Ideally, every organization would immediately adopt 5G and be transformed by the new technologies it can enable, from artificial intelligence (AI), to virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR) and robotics.
Not every industry has the necessary infrastructure to support this, and for those sectors, the hype around 5G generally outweighs the reality. So while the possibilities seem endless, the actuality isn’t quite yet matching up — except in manufacturing. An industry that relies almost entirely on the connections between machines and their associated technology, 5G is poised to usher in the next phase of the industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 will have long-lasting and permanent effects on manufacturing from technology, workforce and business perspectives. Here’s how and why.
No Time Wasted
Let’s start with the obvious: Factories are made up of countless pieces of machinery, and the better they work together, the better the outcome. 5G significantly decreases latency within these connections, meaning the real-time updates being communicated between the appliances will be exactly that: real-time. That means standard processes can be executed almost entirely autonomously, without human intervention, and employees can supervise from a distance or even remotely, receiving their own instantaneous real-time updates via sensors.
But the most exciting way 5G will affect manufacturing is that organizations will be able to adopt cool, smart technologies that will transform the entire fabric of their factories. Robots, for example, can take over the mundane and tedious labor that takes up hefty amounts of time for factory workers, leaving them to focus on more value-added, strategic tasks. Remote monitoring capabilities won’t just result in just reporting data updates; employees can strap on an AR headset and see exactly what’s going on the factory floor. This can also be true for routine check-ins or emergency fixes at multiple remote locations. Perhaps there’s a piece of machinery at another factory that stopped working. Instead of traveling there to inspect the problem, identifying the issue, returning back to the factory to get the right materials and/or tools and reporting back, employees can manage this entire process through their AR headsets.
The changes don’t stop there. The value of technology is the time it can save in reducing downtime and increasing output. The technology gains are immense, but the changes for the workforce itself are just as revolutionary.
When technology can act autonomously and deliver real-time updates to anyone, anywhere, there is a significant uptick in efficiency and productivity for the entire workforce. This is true for any industry, but given the machine-heavy environment of manufacturing, the gains are particularly significant. There’s so much opportunity for smart tech to take-up a bulk of the tedious, time-intensive tasks that can eat up an employee's day as they walk the factory floor. 5G can liberate the “man-machine” link to be truly virtual and instantaneous, and teams can spend more time thinking critically and making strategic decisions that enhance business outcomes from anywhere.
Employees will have more flexibility to work remotely, liberating the employee from the factory, increasing outputs and driving efficiency.. And when employees do better, so do businesses.
Service Provider Partnerships
The digitization of business processes within the manufacturing realm will require telecom companies to shift from being just technology providers into being more strategic partners. Given that entire revenue streams will be counting on the success of the network, telecommunications companies can help their clients understand how to best leverage their networks, and give them strategic insights into what new avenues they might be able to go into.
While 5G provides ample growth on the manufacturing side, the same is true for the telecommunications companies, too. The performance KPIs that manufacturing will need will drive the need for more transparency from the service providers on latency, jitter and dropped packets in communications links. The ability of service providers to deliver will determine the rate at which businesses adopt private 5G networks, or rely on hybrid or traditional service provider delivered networks.
Deeply tied to all of this tech innovation and efficiency is the opportunity to create new business models for manufacturing teams. The ability to have complete visibility and control over autonomous machinery means operators can be more creative in their approach to solving problems. Take drones, for example, which hold promise in being used for transportation needs, conducting aerial site audits and more. But, current LTE networks can be easily interfered with, especially when the technology is moving across distances. The network slicing capabilities of 5G means different technologies can “own” certain aspects of the network, completing their tasks without employees needing to worry about interference.
Manufacturing is expected to be the first to implement their own private 5G and adopt hybrid 5G networks to eliminate interference and control the security of their networks. Security is another valuable feature of 5G. The right tools to measure performance and security end-to-end across the various segments of their networks will become increasingly important. Manufacturing will require more visibility to the performance characteristics of their network to assure the productivity and security of their factories.
There’s a lot of excitement around 5G, and for good reason: The opportunity to improve connectivity will be a game changer in our increasingly digital world. But there’s complexity, too, in doing it right, making it crucial for companies to adopt the right tools and software to encourage enhanced network visibility and real-time updates. The manufacturing industry has real potential to be transformed by 5G.
Sergio Bea is vice president of global enterprise and channels at Accedian.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.