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Top 10 5G manufacturing use cases

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The emergence of 5G technology will have a great impact in the way Industry 4.0 manufacturers, or “smart factories,” produce and distribute goods. The key elements of 5G, which are low latency, high reliability, and increased speed are necessary to support emerging technologies and their novel applications in the smart manufacturing space, such as process automation, remote monitoring, and maintenance and device life cycle management, among others. Here we briefly describe ten 5G manufacturing use cases.

5G manufacturing powers industrial automation

Industrial automation uses control systems to manage repetitive tasks, often with emerging technologies like IoT sensors, AI vision cameras and autonomous robots. The introduction of 5G technology will enable more and better adoption of industrial automation by powering its various elements’ networking capabilities. For instance, the low-latency wireless communications enabled by 5G will simplify real-time machine monitoring and controls, giving industry leaders more insights and better management of their facilities. For example, an industrial facility might adopt 5G to connect AI vision cameras along the assembly line. The high-speed, wireless connectivity would enable managers to track quality control and inspect products remotely with higher efficiency and increased productivity.

5G manufacturing enables remote monitoring of production assets

Another benefit of smart factories is the capability to monitor and control production assets via remote operations. Operators don’t need to be on the factory floor, but can instead keep track of operations in real-time through software systems. This means operators can easily locate and manage assets, gain actionable insights in real-time, and configure the machinery to optimize safety, efficiency, and quality. Siemens, for example, implemented its first live remote monitoring system for Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) in its Transformers factory in Mexico. The FAT is proof that the equipment manufactured by Siemens follows the customer’s contract specifications and is ready to be installed on-site. Normally, customers must be physically present at the factory to conduct the FAT, but because of live monitoring, customers can conduct the FAT from their own locations. With the introduction of 5G, live streaming and remote monitoring will be more seamless, accurate, and secure, enabling operators to broaden its application and troubleshoot problems as they occur.

Maintenance and device life cycle management

At factories and industrial sites, it is essential to make sure that equipment is correctly functioning. To achieve this, IIoT sensors could be installed on various machines to monitor equipment status and send out alerts if a problem is detected or if the equipment is coming due for routine maintenance. With the implementation of 5G technology, onsite sensors that monitor essential equipment will keep plant managers informed with up-to-the-minute information about their status and productive output. The implementation of IoT and 5G enabling constant equipment monitoring could also yield cost savings. For example, instead of replacing a machine part every six months, the factory can monitor that part’s status and replace it only when needed.

Augmented reality for repairs

The low latency and stable connectivity offered by 5G technology also enables augmented reality troubleshooting to repair electronic boards. Swedish vendor Ericsson has been experimenting with augmented reality (AR) overlays in the company’s factory in Tallinn, Estonia. The company noted that roughly 50% of the total time required for troubleshooting of circuit boards is spent on searching for information from documents, manuals and schematics. With AR troubleshooting, the average fault detection time could be reduced by 15%. Also, there are likely to be fewer component replacements, leading to energy consumption savings, as well as reduced chemical use, waste and scrap.

Additive manufacturing

According to Singapore operator Singtel, additive manufacturing or 3D printing is making significant impacts on the manufacturing industry. In particular, 3D printing is revolutionizing spare parts management. “Many warehouses maintain a huge inventory of spare parts for customers who are still operating older machines. Half of all orders shipped are one-time requests for spare parts. With predictive analytics, they can forecast the demand for spare parts and use a 3D printer to create the part on-demand. This will reduce waste and the cost to store spare parts,” Singtel said.

American multinational home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool adopted 3D printing through a partnership with Singapore service bureau Spare Parts 3D. They are using the technology to “combat obsolescence and fulfill part-shortage areas.” While this will result in cost-savings for the company, Whirlpool believes that the most significant outcome is the impact on customer care as customers can receive brand new spare-parts whenever they need it. The emergence of 5G can supercharge this process by enabling operators to connect with multiple standalone 3D printers, so they can monitor and control the 3D printing processes remotely, Singtel said.

Automated guided vehicles

An automated guided vehicle (AGV) is a portable robot that follows along marked long lines or wires on the floor, or uses radio waves, vision cameras, magnets, or lasers for navigation. AGVs are most often used in industrial applications to transport heavy materials around large industrial facilities, such as a factory or warehouse.

Many industrial companies operate and maintain a fleet of automated guided vehicles, but in order to derive the real value from them, companies will need to digitize the manufacturing environment and connect the vehicles, then capture and meld all that information. When AGV information is integrated with all the company’s systems, these firms will be able to capture the necessary data, produce insights, reduce uncertainty, and support decisions.

According to Japanese tech firm Hitachi, a challenge with handling multiple AGVs in manufacturing or industrial operation is the connectivity. “Traditionally most companies use Wi-Fi to connect to the units, but inside a large manufacturing plant with heavy equipment, magnetic fields and other interferences, making sure you are connected and bringing your AGV data in real-time, all of the time is also a challenge. The optimization gained by investing in these machines can quickly be eroded if there are Wi-Fi shadows around your facilities and you lose the connectivity with your unit, right when a problem is about to happen,” Steven Garbrecht, a former Director of Solutions Marketing- IoT and Manufacturing Digital Solutions at Hitachi Vantara, said.

Here is where 5G technology can play a key role to set the conditions where AGVs can show their full capabilities. Hitachi is partnering with telecommunication carriers and technology providers like Verizon and Ericsson, that can fully enable private 5G environments to replace Wi-Fi at the edge, significantly increasing the density of connected devices, sensors and machines, improving the latency and throughput of data streams and assuring complete coverage in the industrial facilities, to enable a better operation of AGVs.

Real-time video analytics

There is no doubt that manufacturing firms can take advantage from the rollout of 5G as this technology will impact any solutions under the umbrella of camera-based, real-time video analytics.

Manufacturing plants prioritize continuous improvement by increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Having more efficient systems to monitor production-line performance helps achieve that objective. By using predictive maintenance and a cohesion of processes, manufacturers can significantly reduce downtime and improve productivity.

It is well known that 5G’s low latency can capture near real-time insight into manufacturing operations. This technology can certainly support the high number of connected devices used to monitor various processes in the manufacturing field.

Some of the potential uses cases enabled by real-time video analytics are visual quality inspection, COVID protocol adherence, work place safety adherence, fire hazard alert, as well as perimeter surveillance & intrusion detection.

Collaborative robotics

According to Singapore telco Singtel, manufacturers are using a variety of robots for industrial tasks. There are robots that can move products from one location to another and robots that are designed to work alongside humans in the warehouse. Most of these industrial robots are connected using a wired system as the data required to power a warehouse of robots cannot be supported by current wireless speeds. This is why, the implementation of 5G technology will be key for the widespread of the collaborative robotics concept.

The Asian telco said that a company that makes use of collaborative robotics is Ocado, a U.K.-based online grocery market. Their smart factory in Andover, England has over 1,100 robots picking up items from crates and delivering them to packing stations, fulfilling thousands of grocery orders every week. They travel along a grid using an air traffic control system so they don’t collide with one another and travel up to 37 miles per day. They are said to pack 50 items in just five minutes, which amounts to 65,000 orders made by customers in a week.

Supply chain optimization

Supply chains stand to benefit from 5G technology in many ways, as the real-time flow of information on the whereabouts of goods is key to optimizing operations.

According to Marco Contento, VP of 5G technology at Telit, supply chains that need incoming parts to be highly synchronized will be made more efficient with 5G-powered track and trace technologies. “For example, an automotive factory synchronizing parts delivery from outside can see shipment status and integrate that tracking data into its workflow, allowing production lines to be configured to manufacture parts, assemblies and subassemblies in a manner optimized with real-time component arrival information,” he said. “Low-latency 5G connectivity also enables vehicle-to-vehicle communication, optimizing supply chains that rely on autonomous trucks and robots.”

According to U.S. carrier Verizon, 5G could help improve visibility in supply chains and prevent inventory shrink as well as provide more accurate product location using near real-time data.

The telco noted that the low latency and faster throughput of 5G could enable improved product tracking. “Capturing near real-time data throughout the supply chain from manufacturing to delivery could help increase agility and responsiveness to demand trends,” Verizon said.

Troubleshooting using a digital twin

Specifically in manufacturing, digital twins could be created to focus on a single component within the manufacturing process or to focus on a single piece of equipment within a production line. Also, digital twins could be implemented at a manufacturing site to monitor and improve an entire production line or even monitor the entire manufacturing process from product design and development to production.

In a research note, GlobalData Principal Disruptive Tech Analyst Kiran Raj highlighted the relevancy of digital twin capabilities—using sensor data and software tools to build virtual models of current and future state physical assets or processes—to product iteration, asset monitoring, improving maintenance regiments, and reducing downtime in industrial environments. The researcher specifically called out the oil and gas, automotive, healthcare, and construction verticals as likely drivers of digital twin adoption.

According to Simultech Multimedia, one of the ways digital twinning of production facilities is expected to help manufacturers is in the area of maintenance and repair and optimized asset performance. Digital twins allow hybrid visualization, a combination of visual information and both live and historical data. This kind of visualization lets manufacturers look into the hidden place deep within production machinery (including even very difficult-to-access equipment, such as subsurface oil reservoirs or space vehicles) to check temperature abnormalities, structural integrity, and other conditions that lead to equipment failure and inefficiencies. That way, they can be dealt with in the real-world before they become a problem, providing huge savings in avoided downtime, Simultech said.

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