I’m sure most by now have heard of 5G as the latest standard in cellular networks, as well as that 5G can theoretically offer speeds up to 100x faster than current 4G. While it can enhance our personal and leisure lives, it also has the potential to transform many important industries as we know it. One of these industries, where 5G has this potential to transform is the industrial environment where it can solve key problem areas such as faster connectivity, a more robust and reliable connection, enhanced security for data transfer, and low latency. 5G will also unlock a plethora of new applications, and AI/ML capabilities, as there will be a need to transfer data as fast as possible, process the data, and then send it back as fast as possible. On top of this, there will be higher quality of service for specific applications through network slicing, where a network can be partitioned into virtual networks that are optimized for each unique application.
There has never been a more prudent time for enhanced connectivity and data transfer speed, with the complexity of the manufacturing setting growing at an exponential scale, and now each facility equipped with 1000s of machines, tools, and workers, now all being digitized. it is a necessity for the digital factory to all operate, communicate, and process smoothly, without lag or interruption. Exponential increases in connected devices and data generated in the factory in the industrial IOT era, are also having a large impact on energy requirements and usage that are forcing change. The current networks in industrial settings are often out of date, there is some limited access to WiFi, and the speed of data transfer is relatively slow and spotty at best sometimes. Setting up WiFi in an entire facility can also be costly compared to setting up a private cellular network.
With some of the current challenges and needs of industrial companies, it appears that there is some uniformity in the sentiment for 5G technology among industrial companies. The largest issue that 5G can help to solve for industrial companies is agreed to be enhancing current connectivity (Capgemini). Most industrial companies (75%) feel that 5G will be a key factor for their digital transformation in the next five years, even higher than AI (Capgemini). Now that is saying something! The two main outcomes of interest on the business front that are pushing 5G adoption are more secured operations, as well as increasing the efficiency of operations and/or cost savings.
As each worker becomes equipped with more sensors, data capture tools such as wearables and computer vision, and smartwatches from Iterate Labs, there will be increased need for data to be sent, analyzed, and returned, in fractions of a second. Current speeds and networks allow for reliable connectivity for dozens to hundreds of workers and machines, but as the need for more data grows, as well as the total number of connected workers, there will be an increased demand for technologies like 5G. In the future the ability to have 1000s of workers and machines communicating simultaneously, with complex edge processing and AI are going to require additional bandwidth that 5G can help to deliver. And to appropriately manage overall labor effectiveness (OLE) for a facility, data streaming from every worker will need to be reliable, fast, and secure. 5G will certainly play a key role in allowing for the full digitization of a workforce in the future, and to enable more AI applications in real-time, as well as facilitating enhancements in OEE (overall equipment effectiveness). Cobotics will be another grand area to explore for 5G, where robots and humans will be working together, side by side to accomplish tasks and processes. The area of cobotics will benefit from 5G technology to enable seamless operations between the digital and physical worlds, where a small lag in communication, can have a disastrous impact between a human and a robot.