Piggybacking off of last month’s industry insight feature about strengthening our supply chains and tightening the reins on how far we’re spreading the cumulative links of that chain (you, know, trying to keep it “local,” and/or domestic vs. offshoring our manufacturing operations – we thought it might be an interesting conversation to talk about the foothold 5G networking is having within the industrial sector.
Certainly you’ve heard the term “5G” at some point in the last calendar year – most likely as it exists with our telecommunication (smart) devices that we’re all holding in our hands, or holstering in our pocket. Technology is always moving, and the one piece a vast majority of us are tied to in 2020 is our cellular devices. It’s more often than not the primary means of our communications method(s) in these contemporary times.
What Is 5G
In a nutshell: 5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology. It is designed to increase speed, reduce latency, and improve flexibility of wireless services.
Why does it matter?
Well, boiled down to its core, 5G connectivity matters because it means greater speed and efficiency across myriad technological platforms.
Overarching benefits of 5G include:
- Greater speed in transmission from device to device, network to network
- Lower latency, equaling greater results, quicker
- Increased number of connected devices, giving way to more robust networking network capabilities
- Improved functionality of network slicing, enabling you greater control defined by you and your operation(s)
In general, the shift to 5G has come with an underlying welcome excitedness, with questions as well (as any technological advancement does). Where speed is part of the equation, we’re living in a culture that thrives off of “in the moment” on demand, well, demands, so the speed of connectivity and inherent communications is always going to be of value if it delivers on that promise.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MANUFACTURING?
The long and short of it is, this is the next wave in creating a robust Industry 4.0 driven environment in shop operations around the country, and, world.
By now you know that the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) isn’t coming, it’s here. We’ve been talking about it for years, and it has slowly been getting rolled out depending on myriad shop specific logistics, but, by-and-large, this is a topic / industry standard that has been adopted as a working piece of the larger equation. More and more, “smart” factories are becoming commonplace in our industry, and, there’s not been a time in our history where the idea of a smart shop, and the inherent Industry 4.0 operating mantra, has made more sense. Where we can tap into technology to aide in our production processes, we can alleviate the strain of face-to-face contact in this time of pandemic. We know, we know, we’ve been literally talking about the COVID stuff constantly since March, but, I mean, why wouldn’t we, right? In a world where we’ve largely gone remote, shouldn’t every shop, if they’re able, be doing what they can to minimize “exposure” and maximize productivity and supply chain efficiencies?
The answer is undoubtedly a resounding “yes”, regardless if you have the means to implement it at the moment, or not. We understand that a lot of us here in the northeast are operating smaller shops and can’t always afford a giant swing in the “latest and greatest” technologies, but, we can all dream, can’t we?
What this means is, 5G is leading the charge in enabling Industry 4.0 to be at it’s very best as it depends on connectivity of devices to leverage technologies like:
- Environmental sensor efficiencies
- Factory interaction amongst machines,tools, personnel, etc.
- And more…
As “factories of the future” morph into factories of the now and we continue our growth and development internally and with our or network, we as manufacturers need to realize that adapting to new technologies and the networks that connect them is imperative in fulfilling our goal of unified productivity from shop to shop and job to job.
5G networks offer our industry unique opportunities to create new revenue streams and internal monetary savings as a byproduct of operating efficiently and effectively along with the Industry 4.0 adaptation. Such streams include:
- Energy and utility savings
- Product and raw material management
- Labor efficiency
- Streamlined ordering and shipping processes
The factories of tomorrow (which are more-or-less increasingly the factories of today) will rely greatly on sensor technology to trigger real time manufacturing productivity operations and metrics, prominently featuring connected tools, and utilizing data to guide the tasks of the workforce and place greater influence upon the local, national, and global supply chain.
Five Key Ways 5G Will Kickstart Industry 4.0
Where it’s already been implemented, and where adoption is slower to get up to speed:
- Greater flexibility – where there’s flexibility, there’s greater gain. Initiating a wireless network throughout the facility means potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness of productivity. Is it fool proof? Nothing is. But it’s better than leaving things to chance.
- Increased productivity – Yes, we just mentioned this, but it bears repeating. In manufacturing operations far and wide the inclusion of robotics has become more and more common place, and the ability to manage these pieces from afar and keep productivity moving 24/7/365 is means to bolster many facets of the business. Increased productivity is a win on myriad levels and vantage points.
- Real-time predictive maintenance – with data and technological diagnosis capabilities inherent in an Industry 4.0 environment we can make more educated and best serving decisions as it relates to the resources at our disposal. Getting in front of maintenance rather than living a reactive existence is better for the business and the industry. Because downtime means a loss of productivity and puts a cog in the figurative (and literal) wheel which is felt for far greater than a moment.
- Tailored infrastructure connectivity – The beauty behind smart facilities is that you can literally set them up to best suit your unique situation and operative goals. When you can tie in the notion that you can manage this environment or cluster of environments onsite or remotely, it’s hard to argue against the prospective merit of the advancement(s). Oh, and did we mention productivity benefits yet?
- New business models – We’re heading a bit outside of the proverbial box (factory?) here, but, consider this… You’ve got your orders to fill, and you’re continually seeking new business to keep the pipeline full, but, is your shop dark for a period of time? Sure, part of that may be because the human resource element of the company is sparse and everyone needs some r&r, but, what if there was some kind of manufacturing service that was built on the premise of the popular subscription model? As in, what if there are people out there without the means to build out their own shop and may be willing to “rent out” the space, machines, and tooling on a pay-per-use basis? And what if those logistics were managed digitally. As in, you submit your facility for use in some sort of centralized hub that is shareable by potential users in your local and/or regional network? Would you do it? Maybe, maybe not.
While that last bullet there requires more strategic thought, but, the greater point remains; with digital, 5G driven communications, the sky is the limit on what we can do with our manufacturing processes, and facilities.
And while there will always be valuable in a tangible handshake and face-to-face interaction, the way the world is trending in these contemporary times is virtual. It saves time, money, and, in all honesty, is in many ways a safer mode of managing and operating a business.
5G’s low latency and high-bandwidth capabilities can support an increasing data flow that is given through with a digitally driven manufacturing facility. The ability to analyze this data gives us a strong enabled capability of aiding in the reduction of downtime. 5G-connected sensors to your operative machines and tooling can channel real-time information about equipment performance, ranging from vibration to noise data, and, as mentioned lead to smarter decisions with regard to the overall performance and how to improve upon abnormalities, potential inadequacies, and maintenance needs/schedules (among other things). More information leads to greater end product(s)…
Let’s hear your thoughts on this, and tell us how you’re utilizing technological innovation to your advantage as a working piece of your operations in and around the shop floor.