5G: Paving the way for Industry 4.0?

06 April 2021

Friedrich Haussmann discusses the benefits and barriers to the adoption of 5G in industrial applications.

Industry has experienced many shifts over the last century – from the rise of mass production to the automation present today – industrial players continue striving to take advantage of technologies that can help increase productivity and efficiency. 

Today, we are in the midst of another major transition – Industry 4.0 – which sees greater automation, data gathering, and intelligence providing the power to expand autonomous technologies, reduce downtime, improve safety, and support industrial companies to reach their business objectives.

In this environment, the timing for the adoption of 5G couldn’t be better. Many opportunities lie ahead while many questions remain about how a rollout of the technology will unfold. 

The possibilities
There are many industrial 5G testing environments within manufacturing facilities across Europe. Companies are considering issues such as the equipment they will need, the skillset required to maintain the system, and the processes that will need to be implemented to deploy various tasks. It is expected that by mid-2021, many large industrial corporations will have completed their testing of the first generation of 5G and will then be ready to consider engineering deployments on a larger scale. 

There are three primary areas where 5G testing is taking place:

1. Mobile, autonomous robotics: Many manufacturing facilities use robotic machinery or other autonomous, mobile equipment in their production process. Reliable network connectivity is critical to monitor location and stop the equipment if someone or something crosses its path. 

2. Critical data reporting for quality control: Precision is key in manufacturing. One missed turn of a screw, or a missing ingredient could cause product failure. Machines today are connected to the plant floor network and are continuously monitored to ensure that processes are followed – every time, all the time.

3. Non-critical data storage: Every aspect of machine performance is monitored in an automated environment. Collecting and analysing data allows for predictive maintenance, anticipating when a malfunction may occur and scheduling maintenance to avoid downtime. Data analysis can also help improve productivity by optimising processes and performing tasks in the most efficient manner. In larger companies, more data is available to analyse, which translates to more opportunities for improvement.

Questions remain
5G is a big step forward in industrial network connectivity. The primary question that remains revolves around global standardisation of how 5G will be licensed. To date, each country has its own regulations. For global manufacturers, some level of standardisation must be in place for a large-scale 5G rollout. 

Additionally, manufacturers seek comprehensive solutions for deploying and managing the technology, including product selection, network expertise and on-call support. They rely on partners like Hirschmann who are able to draw from their experience with industrial customers to deliver solutions from implementation through support.

Within the next one to three years, live rollouts will begin on plant floors around the world with large organisations leading the way and small organisations following. 5G will allow for an advanced level of automation, productivity, quality, and more.

Friedrich Haussmann is product manager wireless at Belden.

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