5G on the factory floor

15 March 2024

Fiona Treacy explains the role that 5G has to play in accelerating efficiency in manufacturing plants.

With more than half of the world’s energy being consumed by the industrial sector, there is an urgent need to increase the efficiency of factories. To do this, we need real-time access to data, so that we can communicate faster, more reliably, and more securely on the factory floor. Data has now become the most precious resource in the manufacturing industry. 

With reliable and real-time data and easily reconfigurable systems, manufacturers can make decisions quickly – such as scheduling maintenance, adjusting a machine setting, or pivoting from making one product to another.

5G, with its high capacity and low latency, is making this possible – whilst also allowing manufacturers to add cutting-edge technologies – such as automated robots and IoT devices, into their operations. 

But, for these machines to work safely and securely, they need to be able to securely sense, measure, and interpret the real world. This requires analogue data, including pressure measurements or vibrations, into digital data, to allow for more signal processing. 

The highest quality data can be found at the intelligent edge. Take a gigafactory, for example. When it comes to battery manufacturing a robot must apply uniform coating requiring a high degree of precision. This precision can be ensured through data from the intelligent edge. 5G gives the ability to harness these insights at the edge and make better decisions, thereby enhancing efficiencies overall.

Accelerating efficiencies
5G is also accelerating efficiencies simply by making it safer for humans and machines to work together. Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots operate in tandem. With increased automation and robots taking on repetitive, dangerous work, manufacturers can augment human labour and ensure continuity of production. 5G’s reliability and speed mean machine-to-machine communication and, increasingly, human-to-machine interaction is vastly improved, reducing the risk of accidents. 

Eliminating the need for wired connectivity through 5G also provides the manufacturing environment with greater flexibility, in turn, augmenting process automation, remote monitoring, and maintenance and device life cycle management. 

Consider a factory, for example, where the physical connectors have disappeared and command instructions are sent wirelessly between robot subsystems, increasing production speed while reducing costs. All of this is possible through a 5G wireless network because it maximises communication, reduces the margin for error (or accidents), and importantly, keeps the technology secure from hackers or malicious entities. 

The merits of 5G on the factory floor are obvious, but as with any technology that promises to disrupt the status quo, it will take time, resources, and a concerted effort to ensure all factories can benefit. 

The transition from wired to wireless networking is a complex upgrade. Each industrial customer has a unique set of circumstances, from cultural dynamics to financial position or appetite for innovation that sways the organisation’s ability to make the significant upgrade to wireless. 

That said, the number of digital factories will increase rapidly over the next few years as traditional manufacturing facilities come to the end of their life cycles. Once 5G is fully realised, we will be living in a world that holds the potential to dramatically improve life for all. 

Fiona Treacy is Managing Director, Industrial Automation at Analog Devices.

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