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No Longer New, No Longer Optional: Industrial 5G

May 31, 2023
New methods to drive manufacturing efficiency with 5G technology.

By  Michael Weller, practice leader—manufacturing, energy and utilities for Verizon

The pandemic exposed flaws of the supply chain, which had been operating based upon huge, centralized distribution centers for decades. This system was efficient, but its network was wide and stretched thin, compounded by the widespread practice of sourcing manufacturing parts from faraway places. The sudden expectations of on-demand deliveries from consumers coupled with shortage of materials for sourcing revealed undeniable truths: the supply chain would have to evolve immediately and manufacturing must respond with updated processes to handle demand.

For manufacturers to keep up with shortened timelines and greater demand, they would have to become smarter, and supply chains would have to become more efficient. As such, the increasing availability of mid-band spectrum and the growing sophistication of 5G technologies arrived at the right moment to deliver upon these needs.

Factory efficiency

In a traditional factory setting, identifying the root cause of a machine breakdown is expensive and time-consuming. Not only is the compromised part expensive, isolating the problem can often be a laborious undertaking. If the engineering or maintenance crew fails to identify the fault, they might need to send assets to the manufacturer for a diagnostic, offering no guarantees.

A factory that has implemented smart solutions can more likely avert expensive predicaments through predictive maintenance, among other benefits. Modernization, including edge-computing solutions, enables near real-time monitoring and operation of machines and smart devices, and predictive-maintenance analytics can identify the causes of downtime. By connecting IoT devices across the supply chain, manufacturers can be more responsive throughout the process.

Implementing AR and VR

A factory floor has an immense amount of data, but often the majority of it is not readily available. A digital twin, which allows for the real-time digital representation of anything physical, can provide a plant manager with a real-time view augmented with on-screen information. The implementation of AI and AR further enhances transparency, which may increase the efficiency of the factory floor while addressing safety.

With a layer of AI, plant managers and engineering staffs can anticipate potential hazards based on historical data and real-time status of systems and machinery. Manufacturers can use AI and AR technology to optimize product movement throughout the delivery chain, providing deep visibility into location and ETA, and help identify faults and downtime.

Protecting your upgrades

Smart factory solutions can unlock a host of use cases and benefits, including the potential for improvements in quality assurance, enhanced automation of material handling, streamlined compliance with SOPs and enhancements in workplace safety, etc. But digitizing everything from the assembly line to the final delivery process may also create new cyber-vulnerabilities.

Digital transformation is necessary for manufacturers to thrive in tomorrow’s supply chain environment, but it only works if manufacturers can better protect their data, intellectual property and customer information. Prioritizing perimeter protection, threat detection, machine-level data integrity across the entire automation stack, among other precautions, is critical to success.

Being smarter is not just optimizing, streamlining and uncovering new business models. It’s about protecting one’s investments, and being safe, inside the factory and beyond.