For manufacturers, one of the most significant advances of the past few decades has been Industry 4.0. This refers to smart factory technology, like industrial IoT devices, that connect to the internet and help streamline or automate factory management.
With the right device, it’s possible to analyze factory processes, track the movement of goods around a facility, or predict the failure of robotics and other machinery.
Now, new technologies may revolutionize how businesses implement these smart manufacturing technologies.
After a slow start in 2019 and an unusual 2020, the rollout of 5G seems to be moving forward in earnest. This next-generation telecommunications technology, which is capable of providing speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, may revolutionize how companies use IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices.
The Advantages of IoT for Manufacturers
Smart manufacturing offers significant benefits to businesses that adopt the tech. Data from early adopters, for example, found that 82% of manufacturers who implemented smart manufacturing technology reported increased efficiency.
The use of IoT devices also enables some unique approaches to factory management. Predictive maintenance, for example, is a new maintenance strategy that uses IoT sensors to anticipate machine failure.
With this method, a manufacturer installs sensors on a given machine. These sensors measure operating variables like vibration, temperature, or timing. Then, with the use of AI or a data analytics platform, the manufacturer can establish a baseline and be alerted when those variables begin to drift out of safe operating ranges.
The approach can help drive down operating costs, reduce unscheduled downtime, and prevent machine failure — all major wins for manufacturers.
However, predictive maintenance IoT devices — and all other IIoT sensors that a factory uses — need constant internet connectivity.
Why 5G May Be Essential for Smart Manufacturing
This method can be effective even if there is a delay between data collection and processing in the cloud. The lower the latency, however, the closer you get to a real-time measure of machine health.
Even small issues with latency and IoT connectivity that arise as a result can cause major challenges for manufacturers.
Wi-Fi isn’t practical for many larger factories, but taking advantage of a cellular network provides a possible stopgap. 4G, however, isn’t fast or reliable enough for many factories — the technology struggles when too many devices connect to the same tower, and it can only provide speeds up to 100mbps. This limits the volume of data that can be transferred, making real-time applications of IoT devices less practical.
For this reason, many IIoT fleets still rely on wired connections. This approach is functional but limits the flexibility of the fleet. Whenever a manufacturer wants to reposition or reassign a sensor, they’ll have to weigh the labor cost and potential logistical challenge of moving the device and wiring it back into the factory network.
The rollout of 5G, however, will likely make real-time uses of IoT — like predictive maintenance — much more workable. The tech provides speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, and 5G towers are also designed with technology like Massive MIMO, which helps the network manage a large number of devices connecting at the same time to the same tower.
How 5G Makes Autonomous Manufacturing Robotics More Practical
Wireless IoT with 5G will also make certain robotics more practical. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), for example, are two classes of self-piloting robots that are becoming increasingly common in smart factories.
They may be used to automate tedious or repetitive tasks, like transporting raw materials to a conveyor belt or machine.
These robots need some kind of internet connection — to help supervisors trace them as they move around the factory and so they can use AI-powered algorithmic machine vision to navigate the factory floor.
With near-real-time connections, these robots are less likely to get stuck. Real-time data will also provide factory supervisors with a more accurate understanding of where the robots are at any given moment. 5G makes this level of interconnection possible.
5G and IoT May Transform High-Tech Manufacturing
Over the coming decade, 5G and the Industrial Internet of Things together are likely to have a significant impact on manufacturing. The tech’s real-time data collection will make possible a range of new management and analytic strategies in the industry.
The rollout of 5G happening right now will make these strategies even more practical and help enable the use of robotics like AMRs and AGVs.