Have we overlooked the role of technology for frontline workers in manufacturing? Shahid Ahmed, Group EVP New Venture and Innovation, NTT explains.
The recent discussion around the future of work has focused mainly on professionals substituting offices for remote work. The effect of technology for frontline workers, however, has been overlooked. There are currently 2.7 billion frontline workers around the world in various industries, including manufacturing. This makes up 80% of the global workforce that, until now, was not sufficiently empowered by emerging technologies.
Now, private 5G provides a means of supporting frontline workers, connecting them more easily with each other and with remote workers in order to provide a better customer and employee experience.
By 2030, private 5G networks are expected to be worth a staggering £6.3bn to UK manufacturing alone. We partnered with Economist Impact to interview technology executives globally and found that over half of the companies surveyed plan to implement a private 5G network within 24 months. The UK government is backing the potential of 5G in the manufacturing and supply chain industry through its 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, recently launching industry guidelines to roll out Open RAN across the UK to attract new telecoms suppliers to the 5G supply chain.
Offering better coverage, connectivity and security for frontline workers
It’s crucial to focus on the global acceleration of private 5G in order to meet the rapidly evolving needs of enterprises across industries, including manufacturing. Private 5G is set to create an unprecedented alignment of data, connectivity, security, and communications. Global enterprises are looking for a single private 5G solution to deploy across multiple countries, offices and manufacturing locations. They need one truly private network, one point of accountability, and one management platform from a solution partner that eliminates all the major friction points across the entire global footprint of the enterprise.
Private 5G changes the game by enabling enterprises with the means to drive digitalisation and decisively improve data-based business models. Private 5G helps support the platforms and services that enterprises purchase. Just as importantly, this technology provides enterprises with time-critical production control and data-supported decision making in real-time.
These private, local 5G networks can improve on the services offered by public networks, especially when WiFi is not viable on the premises of a large organisation or an expansive logistics environment. Dedicated 5G networks extend connectivity beyond the wireless local area network (WLAN). They also fulfil the technical requirements organisations have for improved performance, company control or security, and commercial requirements for lowering airtime spend and coverage-deployment costs.
Employee experience transformed in manufacturing
There are various scenarios and applications where 5G technology can help workers in the industry and manufacturing sectors. The high speeds of 5G are leading to higher user satisfaction and they’re also helping people and employees do more with their devices.
NTT Private 5G (P5G) enables digital transformation, allowing enterprises to innovate with private 5G for smart manufacturing in order to modernise factory floors and secure mission-critical environments.
5G technology also enables connectivity for automated guided vehicles (AGVs), rugged tablets for staff, voice and push-to-talk communications, outdoor video surveillance, and computer vision applications, plus reliable connectivity for remote assist and augmented reality.
Technician support through ‘remote vision’
Using AR/VR to support from remote locations, engineers are able to assist colleagues and customers when they are not able to visit factories in person. They may also leverage wearables in factories to see what the remote support team sees, with overlays that let them mark on screen and provide clear assistance via group communications to keep frontline workers connected and safe. This technology helps engineers to transform and improve the customer experience by connecting the physical and online systems.
The concept of ‘remote vision’ technology may sound futuristic but it’s becoming an important reality within many industry verticals. This is thanks to private 5G performance attributes that enhance the experience of augmented reality (AR) wearable devices, offering hands-free remote collaboration and visual assistant tools. By clipping these types of wearable computers to a field technician’s hat or helmet, this technology provides the opportunity for remote users to see and hear exactly what the AR-enabled technician is doing in real time.
The use-case examples where private 5G is helpful within the enterprise are plentiful and include both indoor and outdoor settings. The benefit of this technology is that it enables remote viewing of locations that may be difficult to access, or where specialised expertise is required but may not be cost-effective or feasible to send an expert to the physical location.
Additionally, the ability to monitor the status and quality of frontline technician fieldwork can significantly improve productivity and help ensure that tasks are being completed properly and on time. Often, field technicians find themselves in situations where they’re not sure how to fix a problem or complete a task. The frontline assist service provides the necessary direct line of real-time audio and video support, reducing the number of return visits to complete a hands-free computing task.
These AR tools can easily connect to private 5G by connecting the wearable computer to a USB or WiFi tethered 5G adapter. This greatly expands the connectivity options for the service, including the ability to deploy the platform on a private 5G infrastructure. Because the platform requires the use of real-time streaming voice and video, network requirements including latency, jitter, and packet error rate must be kept within strict parameters for proper operation.
The last thing anyone wants is to begin relying on productivity saving tools only to have them falter due to subpar WiFi network performance in areas where deploying WiFi is a challenge. To protect against this, many organisations aim to provide the proper foundation for wireless connectivity. Businesses are discovering that deploying a reliable remote vision platform requires a network that can deliver guaranteed coverage, reliability and performance. In many cases, standard WiFi connectivity simply doesn’t cut it.
Ultimately, requirements for private 5G lead to interesting use cases in the supply chain area of manufacturing plants and become compelling when applied to large, campus-wide environments. This is because the 5G network enables more widespread coverage and connectivity across a plethora of devices, transmitting large volumes of data that must be secure and controlled.
Overall, private 5G will be key to the future of the manufacturing factory floor. By empowering frontline employees this technology can drive business efficiencies and prevent significant risks to operations. We expect to see many more manufacturers explore how private 5G can empower their employees as they turn to technology to improve the worker experience and drive their business growth.
To read more stories on Digital Transformation click here.
NTT appointed wireless industry leader Shahid Ahmed as EVP of New Ventures and Innovation to pioneer its private 5G service portfolio, drive digital transformation outcomes for clients and deepen ecosystem collaboration. Shahid brings over 25 years of technology experience focused on business transformation, including key leadership roles at Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sprint. In addition, he is an appointed advisor to the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
NTT group companies are jointly accelerating the adoption of open and virtualized 5G solutions globally in collaboration with ecosystem stakeholder. This comprehensive approach enables NTT to provide full suite of digital transformation services.