Next generation 5G networks offer manufacturers the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) for troubleshooting, and the Internet of Things (IoT). With competitiveness and efficiency now everything for manufacturers, the importance of game-changing technologies like 5G has never been greater.
In a recent Manufacturing Digitalisation Symposium session, Ericsson’s Iain Thornhill and Sebastian Elmgren were joined by Unipart Manufacturing and Hyperbat’s Hosein Torabmostaedi and representatives from leading manufacturing organisations to discuss how 5G can help unlock the potential of industrial digitalisation.
Here are some of the key takeaways from that session:
Manufacturers are trailblazing 5G adoption
One of the first questions in the session came from the group manager at a global car maker’s manufacturing research, development and design division. He said he’s been looking at transformational technologies, including 5G, for more than a year and a half. However, since then, he has not really seen 5G being used in anger and wanted to know why.
Sebastian Elmgren, Portfolio Manager for Smart Manufacturing at Ericsson, highlighted how many car manufacturers in Europe, particularly Germany, are adopting 5G.
Many, he said, have their own private 5G networks inside their factories, which are already complementing traditional Wi-Fi connectivity, but with the added stability, security and performance benefits that 5G affords.
The beauty of such a setup is that these manufacturers have not had to wait for wider implementation of 5G. Instead, they have created their own 5G networks wherever they were needed. So, their facilities, regardless of location and surrounding 5G maturity, are already reaping the benefits.
5G boasts superior bandwidth, performance and reliability
Sebastian also provided some fantastic insight into the benefits of 5G over Wi-Fi (4G). For manufacturers, the fact that 5G works on a licensed spectrum means performance and reliability are unwavering — even under heavy load. Traditional Wi-Fi networks are unlicensed and so performance and reliability can both potentially degrade as a result of external factors. This often presents a challenge if a manufacturer wants to implement a myriad of different IoT sensors.
With 5G’s superior bandwidth, reliability and performance, a manufacturer can replace all their existing networks, simplifying their infrastructure and allowing for even greater data-driven insights from connected IoT devices and sensors in the process.
Iain Thornhill, VP – Service Providers and IoT at Ericsson, said 5G enables vast amounts of public safety monitoring sensors, asset monitoring sensors and all manner of other IoT sensors to be connected throughout a production facility. This allows manufacturers to benefit from real-time insights and respond to alerts relating to potential issues before they impact operations.
5G enables manufacturers to take advantage of HD video, AR solutions and more
Where 5G really comes into its own, according to Iain, is when there’s a need to handle high-definition video. Whether it’s for quality control, AR use cases or for creating an environment where there is a need to analyse video with AI, 5G can facilitate it seamlessly.
Hosein Torabmostaedi, Digital & Innovation Manager at Unipart Manufacturing and Hyperbat, says 5G has enabled them to implement AR systems which help production operators with their day-to-day tasks. Numerous ceiling-mounted projectors guide workers to ensure they are picking the right parts for the ordered products and assembling them to the correct torque.
The projectors also communicate with the operation management systems to ensure they are displaying the correct information for the job in hand. All the while crucial data is being captured to monitor the quality of the products being produced. Should there be an issue, the system will flag it and production can be halted while checks are carried out.
Hosein said these systems use 4k cameras which produce images that are often enormous in size. With thousands of these types of images being handled, their existing network could not cope. The result was that the images needed to be copied to a local drive and then manually uploaded to a server. With 5G, Hosein hopes that all this can be done automatically over the network.
The other amazing 5G use case Hosein outlined is freeing such systems from their physical network tethers. Right now, the projectors are fixed, and operators need to go to certain areas to take advantage of them. But with 5G, Hosein says AR glasses could be used instead, enabling operators to perform their jobs from anywhere, including customer sites.
Built with security at the forefront
The topic of conversation then moved to security, with the head of engineering and technology at a British multinational aerospace company asking what standards they should be looking out for.
As Sebastian pointed out, security isn’t just a concern for the defence industry, rather every manufacturer out there today.
Private 5G networks are often not connected to the outside world, which provides a massive security boost right from the off. In addition, all the security protocols and standards from the major macro networks are being utilised by 5G.
There is also a physical piece to the security puzzle in the form of sim cards. Organisations can burn their own sims, which act as physical network keys. By only providing these sims to authorised network users, manufacturers can effectively control who can use their 5G network and who can’t.
Iain Thornhill added that manufacturers should only install 3GPP certified 5G devices on their networks to maintain the highest levels of security. Such devices have been rigorously tested to ensure they meet the required security standards, providing extra peace of mind.
*All images courtesy of Ericsson