What’s the role of mobile edge computing in smart manufacturing?
5G throughput and latency can deliver smart manufacturing use cases like machine vision and automated guided vehicles
5G is a powerful technology that is closely tied to conversations about the digital transformation of industrial verticals. For smart manufacturing, 5G opens up all sorts of time- and money-saving opportunities, but this is still a nascent area and bringing 5G into non-carpeted environments like a factory floor hasn’t been without its detractors or sticking points.
One thing to keep in mind is that, for smart manufacturing or any other type of so-called smart industry, 5G alone won’t drive digital transformation. It needs to be coupled with mobile edge computing (MEC) infrastructure, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and internet of things (IoT) sensors.
For smart manufacturing, “5G is not the end”
“5G is not the end,” according to Intel’s Caroline Chan. “It’s a means to an end.” Chan, vice president of the Network and Edge Group and general manager of the Network Business Incubator Division, called out the capacity and latency gains 5G brings to the table, but said high-impact use cases like machine vision or autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), also require localized compute, AI and connected cameras used a sensors.
5G, she said, “provides a very convenient intersection of all this different technology especially for the industrial side.” Beyond bringing telecom systems into a manufacturing environment, meaningful enterprise adoption also requires a new degree of alignment between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) functional groups. “That’s no small feat,” Chan said.
Intel worked with TIM, JMA Wireless and manufacturer EXOR International to build a smart factory in Verona, Italy. The Industry 4.0 showcase combines 5G, AI, MEC and other technologies to “demonstrate that digitalization can happen at any scale,” EXOR CTO Claudio Ambra said. “This is increasingly important for small and mid-size manufacturers who are looking to stay innovative and competitive in the market. We can’t wait to share what is now possible for manufacturers of all sizes with Industry 4.0 solutions.”
For 5G to enable smart industries, operators have a key role to play
Whether the goal is 5G manufacturing process enablement, or bringing 5G into any vertical industry really, “We’ve noticed that even non-technology companies…have to become technology companies in order to advance,” Jillian Kaplan, Dell Technologies lead of Telecom and 5G Thought Leadership, said. “Manufacturing is no exception to this rule and investing in technology can enable applications potentially to reduce cost and time.”
Target applications, Kaplan said, include more refined workflow scheduling, digital twins, more flexible and efficient production lines, predictive machine maintenance, design customization, augment and virtual reality, production waste reduction, and worker safety.
Another important dynamic playing out in the market revolves around delineation of duties through the build and run bit of an enterprise network lifecycle. Specifically, who does what in an era when regulators are making spectrum available to businesses, hardware is being commoditized, and network functions are moving into the cloud. This new paradigm means enterprises could face a decision between buying a network and managed services from an operator, building and running their own network, or something in the middle.
Kaplan made the point that operators’ businesses revolve around running networks and that construct should extend into the enterprise space. “All of these applications need a network. That’s what [operators] do.” Dell’s role, she said, is “to help communications service providers monetize their investments in 5G with these enterprise [verticals] like manufacturing. And making sure these manufacturers can save money, save time, save lives…We can build these custom solutions to solve these enterprise challenges.”
To read more about how mobile edge computing is creating new revenue opportunities for smart manufacturing and other areas, read the report, “Monetizing MEC: What’s the value in the edge?” And check out the companion webinar featuring speakers from Google Cloud, Inseego and VoltDB.