The importance of 5G to manufacturing robotics

Posted on 1 May 2024 by The Manufacturer

The use of robots is often linked to the pursuit of efficiency and productivity. According to the International Trade Administration, among all industries, a 1% increase in robot density correlated with an 0.8% increase in productivity. Today, robotics in manufacturing is a highlight in this ongoing story, with robots now found at every stage of the manufacturing process across all industries.

While robotics in manufacturing isn’t a new development, the adoption of these technologies has exploded in recent years. In the early years of robotics, primarily large manufacturers like automakers used mobile robotic arms for tasks like welding and painting. However, the rapidly changing business environment has led to a significant increase in the adoption of robotics in manufacturing by businesses of all sizes.

The versatility and efficiency of robotics now make it a core component of modern manufacturing operations that enable companies to stay competitive and adapt to the market’s changing demands. The growing prevalence of private 5G networks can enhance manufacturers’ ability to manage robots, including Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and implement processes such as digital twins, predictive maintenance, and advanced analytics.

Understanding the manufacturing robotics landscape

Several factors contribute to the increase of robotics in manufacturing. The cost of robotics continues to decrease as the technology matures—industrial robot costs are predicted to decline by half by 2025, making robotics more accessible and affordable for more businesses.

At the same time, according to Deloitte’s 2023 manufacturing industry outlook, manufacturers continue to contend with supply chain disruptions, skilled labor shortages and cost pressures. Robotics can help minimize the impact of these challenges while increasing business resilience. Robotics in manufacturing are now more capable, flexible and intelligent, making it easier to find, adapt and incorporate robotics to transform operations and build the smart factory of the future.

By leveraging wireless connectivity, mobile edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI), robotics can move materials throughout the factory line, assemble and weld products, package products for sale, and get products from the warehouse shelf onto pallets and into trucks.

Use cases for robotics and automation in manufacturing

Robotics in manufacturing has several exciting use cases that are only just starting to be incorporated on factory floors. For example, 3D printing technologies allow manufacturers to use robots to produce complex parts, components and products efficiently. By creating products on demand instead of in large batches, manufacturers can significantly reduce their warehousing costs while producing goods that meet customers’ exact specifications, enabling greater design flexibility without the associated setup and production costs.

Other areas of manufacturing suitable for robotics include tasks that require a high level of autonomy and intelligence to enable complex decision-making or problem-solving, such as maintenance and repair. By pairing predictive analytics with robotics, a system could identify a potential maintenance issue and then automatically trigger a robot to execute the repair, all without human intervention.

Robotics can also significantly improve workers’ health and safety conditions. Manufacturing robotics can take on dangerous tasks and help reduce the risk of accidents or injuries. It also reduces the need to use people for repetitive tasks, freeing up those people to focus on more complex and engaging work.

The technology powering robotics in manufacturing

As robots become more affordable and accessible in manufacturing, they’re moving beyond large factories and into even the smallest manufacturing facilities. But to fully leverage robotics in manufacturing, businesses must also invest in other technologies, including:

Sensors and control systems

These essential components enable robots to navigate and interact with their environment by sensing obstacles and other objects. By using cameras, LiDAR sensors that create 3D maps of an environment, force sensors that detect contact, and other sensors to detect sound and infrared radiation, the robot’s control system can synthesize information and decide how to interact within the environment to safely and efficiently accomplish its task.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Connecting, monitoring and managing operations in near real-time enables manufacturers to gain greater insight into their processes and optimize their robotics use. By exchanging information with other systems and devices, such as other robots, sensors and control systems, the factory can enable a just-in-time manufacturing process that ensures seamless coordination across the manufacturing chain.

AI and machine learning

By making it possible to learn from their experiences, robots can adapt to perform tasks more efficiently instead of being limited by their initial programming.

Edge computing

The more the manufacturing process becomes digitized, the more data it creates. Edge computing technologies enable robots to access and analyse massive amounts of data to help improve processes and enable predictive maintenance. Advanced analytics technologies powered by edge computing allow manufacturers to analyse operational data and identify trends so that they can make data-driven decisions about how to optimize their robotics use.

The importance of 5G to manufacturing robotics

Of all the technologies manufacturers need to understand, 5G is among the most important. 5G has the potential to support the massive data requirements of robots, IoT and the cloud that could otherwise limit manufacturing robotics’ full potential.

5G networks can offer faster speeds and lower latency than prior generations of mobile technology and can enable manufacturers to improve how they control and monitor their robots. Not only could this help manufacturers better manage individual robots and their overall robotics array, but it can also allow them to monitor performance in near real-time to integrate process improvements on the fly.

In addition, 5G networks could enable near real-time communication between robots, sensors, control systems and cloud-based platforms. By improving their ability to exchange data and information between robots, connected devices and other data sources, manufacturers could enable their robots to adapt and learn while helping human operators make more informed decisions about their own work.

5G networks could also enable manufacturers to connect their factories with the rest of the supply chain, warehouses, logistics and transportation partners, retailers and even customers. 5G and IoT could make it possible to easily and quickly exchange data between all stakeholders to coordinate production, inventory, shipments and sales, reducing delays while improving forecasting accuracy and product delivery times.

5G can power the connected factory of the future

Finally, 5G networks can help enable manufacturers to leverage other advanced technologies to maximize the performance of robotics, such as:

Augmented reality and virtual reality

Augmented reality overlays digital information onto the real world so workers can view and interact with virtual objects in the physical environment, while virtual reality creates a fully immersive digital environment. Both technologies can be used for training, visualizing complex processes and collaborating with remote team members.

Digital twins

Virtual representations of physical assets can be used to simulate their performance, allowing manufacturers to identify problems, optimize processes and perform tests without taking the physical robot offline.

Predictive maintenance

Using sensors, data analytics and machine learning could help manufacturers better predict when robotic equipment is likely to fail so that they could schedule the required maintenance before it does to help prevent and reduce any unexpected downtime.

Advanced analytics

By using data to identify patterns across their business, manufacturers can optimize processes, identify opportunities for improvement and improve forecasting.

Verizon has the network and advanced technology solutions required to enable a future-ready manufacturing environment. Learn how Verizon 5G Edge can help enable the connected factory needed to benefit from robotics.

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