Home5GA message to enterprises about private 5G* in manufacturing – just do it

A message to enterprises about private 5G* in manufacturing – just do it

Note, this article is taken from the intro/outro sessions at 5G Manufacturing Forum, hosted by Enterprise IoT Insights and RCR Wireless. It is a summary, a ramble, and a call-to-arms – which attempts only to say that industrial 5G is a developing standard, which should be engaged with as such, by enterprises seeking a developing digital-change strategy. It argues that the hype around industrial 5G should be disassembled, just as the gathering anti-hype should be as well. It says to enterprises to ‘just do it’ – meaning (*), get ‘digital’ with tech, one step at a time, and jump on cellular, as appropriate. A ramble, then, like we said…

So, 5G – it is supposed to solve everything, right? Wrong, of course; although that is the way it is often talked about, and sometimes sold. But it is just a network layer, as we know, albeit a high-performing one, with new bells and whistles to enable smarter control over networked assets. In manufacturing, like in every industry, it is just a first step in the bigger Industry 4.0 picture. The real industrial magic will happen over the top. 

At the same time, 5G is a gateway, potentially, to all of this other magic – just like LTE was the gateway for the internet to go mobile, and for new consumer services. So, yes, 5G – and really private 5G using private spectrum, and actually private LTE, as well – will create a new industrial broadband market. But there is a lot of work to do. And we are at an early stage in manufacturing, especially.

We have said this before. The opening address at the European-edition of Private Networks Forum last month (October) might as well have been written for this event, for 5G Manufacturing Forum – noting that private cellular is surging ahead in some verticals (or at least going okay), but that it is in some kind of suspended animation in manufacturing. The example of Germany was used, then, to make the point.

Germany is the European headquarters for manufacturing, and the original home of Industrie 4.0. It was early with ‘vertical’ spectrum,and has a decent amount of 5G activity. But most of this activity, or a higher proportion of it, is linked to large-scale tests and trials. Because 5G is not ready for manufacturing yet – meaning it is not yet ready for industrial IoT; meaning it is not ready to orchestrate critical manufacturing processes. 

It will take a couple more releases of the standard and a couple more years on-top for the ecosystem to be properly ready for production-level systems. And there are, as we know, challenges alongside: with spectrum, with devices, with features, and with culture and education, as well. Which is what makes 5G in manufacturing such an exciting space. Is it a stretch to say it is the elite market for 5G, and for IoT and AI, and all these other edge pieces? 

Maybe. But all this talk about private 5G – or more specifically, the talk about the promise of 5G, and the problems with it – is really about its role in smarter manufacturing. It is not about education, or retail, or healthcare, or cities. So much. They are talking about manufacturing – and by extension, all the points between, in the supply chain – so mining, logistics, warehousing, ports. These are the markets that will make or break 5G.

And these are the markets, as well, that will make or break the companies supplying it. And, maybe, these are the markets that will, finally, be remade by 5G, as the promise goes. Time will tell. More pressingly, the question for manufacturing companies is how to start on a journey with industrial 5G, and how to plot a destination. This question is important. Yes, the industrial 5G story is new; but the bigger Industry 4.0 tale is already being written around it.

Industrial change does not start with 5G, clearly, and should not wait for it. The argument – which applies to any travel analogy – is that you put one foot in front of the other, adjust your view, and go again. It sounds silly to say, but that is what it takes, always – always, even if the direction is not clearly fixed. No, real-time mission-critical industrial processes are not being loaded onto private 5G networks – and may never be, in legacy factory environments.

But there is lots of work to do in the meantime – often just with digitalisation of old industrial processes, even before they are connected. And well-oiled LTE is already good, and current-level 5G is getting better, and both afford jumping-off points to go two-footed into Industry 4.0. At 5G Manufacturing Forum earlier this month, we heard in case studies and panel sessions how manufacturing companies are starting to push the envelope with cellular.

They are starting to introduce digital twins and orchestrate large fleets of AGVs, and starting to realise productivity gains with quality inspections and predictive maintenance. Some of these applications are running on private incarnations of fairly consumer-standard 5G, and some are just on traditional low-power wide-area cellular and non-cellular IoT technologies. The point is just to take these steps – because they can be taken, now. 

While the rest of the supply industry and the mega corporations grapple with the headaches of future 5G. The answer to this question about how to start is to jump in, and be bold and ambitious and clear-minded – and not to worry about being a first mover, with all the risk that goes with it. Because with 5G, in its broadest sense, you can be a fast follower, now, already – and make your operation smarter, richer, greener. Etcetera

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