Tomorrow’s Smart Factories will need 5G to survive

The manufacturing industry is going through a radical transformation. Emerging technologies and futuristic cyber-physical systems increasingly occupy the factory floor. And the “Industry 4.0” movement is not slowing down. Manufacturing firms are investing $900 billion annually on new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Robotics and AI, say PwC. This means technology demand will increase and will need to be highly reliable.

Manufacturers are under immense pressure to meet tight deadlines and budgets while adhering to the highest quality standards. This escalating digitisation will be crucial for production plants to keep up with the fast-paced demands of their industry.

But there is one key factor that will be essential to Industry 4.0’s survival – connectivity.

Industry 4.0 needs 5G

Every AR app, robot and digital twin in the smart factory is reliant on high speeds of data transfer to function effectively. Neither Wi-Fi with its unpredictability nor 4G with its higher latency are up to the task. Instead, Industry 4.0 will need to be powered by 5G connectivity.

5G can not only deliver data rates of 10Gbps but its latency is incredibly low – 50 times lower, in fact, than 4G at 1 millisecond instead of 50 milliseconds. From a less technical perspective, going wireless also has countless benefits in terms of safety and efficiency, cutting costs and removing unwieldy wired IoT hazards.

Mitigating Manufacturing Challenges

Reducing Downtime

On the factory floor, if a machine suddenly malfunctions and needs repairing, the commercial consequences can be dire. When unforeseeable issues happen in the production line, solutions have to be found on the spot, otherwise crucial deadlines are missed, and revenue opportunities lost.

Unexpected periods of downtime can cost a manufacturer as much as $260,000 per hour, according to Aberdeen Research. Now, with predictive analytics and digital twins, operators can anticipate equipment failures before they happen – and that means they can plan and avoid them.

Ramping up Efficiency

When projects are very time-sensitive, the more efficiently the factory can operate, the better. On maintenance tasks, a drawback is often that the trouble-shooter has to constantly redirect their attention between their schematics documentation to the component they are repairing. With AR assistance, they can instead view their instructions as a virtual overlay on top of the component, helping them to visualise the maintenance that needs to be carried out – and resulting in time and cost savings.

This type of AR application requires consistent high-resolution image quality. This can only be possible with the low latency and high data transfer rates of 5G connectivity.

Enhancing Quality Assurance

Robotics is another vital cornerstone of the Industry 4.0 technology landscape. Far from only automating physical activities such as carrying warehouse pallets, robots can also be used for intelligent analysis. In manufacturing environments, robots can use visual recognition technology to manage product quality. Just as the software development sector did previously, it is now the turn of manufacturers to automate the quality assurance link in the supply chain, decreasing overtime, spend and waste.

Automating quality assurance obviously comes with many risks, considering the cost of technical errors in the production line. This means that not only must robots be properly “trained” and programmed, but they need to be constantly connected – a predictability that 5G technology can provide thanks to its interference mitigation capabilities.

Connecting Smart Factories

Blu Wireless are pioneering 5G mmWave technology for the Smart Factory use case – lowering the cost of 5G network deployments while bringing the multi-gigabit speeds and low latency of fibre. Speak to us today about how we could support you to harness the 5G opportunity.