5G and Manufacturing Operations

Covid-19 forced the manufacturing sector to find new and innovative ways to operate safely and efficiently—yet the challenges facing the sector before the pandemic still remain.

Exacerbated by an ageing workforce, significant skill gaps exist but taking workers off the factory floor for extended training periods is no longer viable: due to the pressure of shrinking margins. 

Automation and digitisation, however, offer the promise of increased efficiency and worker safety. It also facilitates a more sustainable workforce within a high output industry. Historically, processes haven’t been designed with energy efficiency in mind but as the priorities of key customers change, the industry must adapt. And 5G is here to facilitate this. 

5G connected factories offer unparalleled insights, controls and the ability to create digital twins to optimise the factory from the production line to warehousing, all in real-time. 5G-enabled augmented and virtual reality can be used to assist and upskill workers on-site, reducing carbon emissions by minimising the need for workers to travel to training sites; or for skilled engineers to visit a site for repairs or support. 5G networks also offer the ability to take automation to the next level. Low-latency and high-bandwidth facilitate the deployment of remotely controlled automated mobile robots, which act as a far more agile, and therefore efficient, alternative to traditional automated guided vehicles.

Operations Applications

Connected Factory

5G can support between 10 and 100 more connected devices per km2 than 4G and handle up to 1,000 times more data volume. Not only that but it can enable up to 10 years of battery life for low power machine-type sensors. Meaning you can have more sensors, data and most importantly, insight and control in real-time over your entire factory operations. Helping to automate processes and speed up a more effective understanding of machine capacity, thereby improving operational efficiency. This, in turn, can reduce costs such as energy, supporting the transition to more sustainable operations, all while maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for workers.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable a connected factory?

Manufacturing businesses need certainty that the networks and connectivity they deploy will maintain a stable and secure connection at all times. If data is compromised or packets lost then people can very quickly get injured or the quality of the final product can be jeopardised. FitFactory is therefore using a 5G private network deployed within AE Aerospace, to streamline the planning and production process for the manufacturer. An automated system (known as the Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP) uses 5G to capture data from the factory floor, machines, devices and people. Once a job comes into the factory, it is planned into the ERP. The production process is automatically scheduled, utilising each available machine and component required in the process. The ERP collects and analyses all available data in real-time, sending alerts as it progresses through production. AE Aerospace is also using its network to analyse machine capacity and highlight delays to help the manufacturer identify pinch points. Ultimately, improving the efficiency of operations.

The 5G Factory of the Future project used data from 5G-connected sensors to capture, monitor and gain insights into the changing conditions impacting the factory environment. This includes data from within the factory such as temperature, humidity, air pressure, but also external inputs such as tides and lunar cycles. The team also tracked data from building management systems, machine movement and radio frequency identification scans to get a full and complete view of the variables that can impact operations, and enable them to take the necessary interventions to compensate. This offers greater insight but also greater agility, along with the ability to monitor the health of machines in real-time. The project estimated 5-10% improved machine utilisation, 10-15% reduction in energy usage and 20% reduction in maintenance rime, arising from performance optimisation and enhanced resource utilisation. View the end of project report here. 

As part of the Worcestershire 5G project, Worcester Bosch, known for manufacturing domestic boilers, launched the UK’s first 5G factory using a 5G private network and mobile edge computing infrastructure provided by Ericsson and managed by BT.

Carl Arntzen, CEO of Worcester Bosch, said:

“We are using this innovative 5G testbed to pioneer secure Industry 4.0 use cases in the areas of Preventative Maintenance and Robotics to drive productivity.  These require large numbers of sensors and high network availability hence our interest in 5G.”

Through a combination of 5G technology, the factory has been able to optimise machine performance and increase output by as much as 2%. The manufacturer used 5G to run real-time machine sensors, allowing them to address problems on the production line before they happen. An additional benefit has been the installation of a network of collision detection sensors, making the factory and its products much safer for on-the-ground employees.

5G is empowering Ericsson's production capabilities and fostering the introduction of new smart manufacturing technologies at their factories in Sweden and Estonia. Through cellular 5G connectivity, almost every asset in the factories is connected and managed to solve operational challenges and optimise working conditions. At their Tallinn factory in Estonia, they expect this monitoring to lead to a 10-20% reduction in heating costs and lower CO2 emissions through better coordination of cooling with gas heating.  

With IoT sensors via IoT industrial software, Armal, a leading manufacturer of portable toilets based in Italy, remotely keeps track of the power consumption throughout the production cycle, helping to reduce the costs of machinery by almost 40%. 

There are several use-cases in Germany, too. The 5G-SMART Testbed is operating in Bosch’ Semiconductor Factory and exploring how 5G can be used to connect and control production equipment. Similarly, DHL has successfully piloted a 5G-enabled system to monitor operational activities within their warehouses in real-time. Working with Cisco and Conduce, IoT technologies help them to visualise the operations within a warehouse through the use of heat maps and other visualisations. Once implemented, the system revealed valuable insights on activity peaks, warehouse layouts and processes by displaying concentrations of pickers and Manual Handling Equipment against a backdrop of warehouse orders in real-time.

At IKD, a leading supplier of automotive aluminium die castings used in 70% of all cars, 5G replaced over 10 kilometres of cables connecting 600 machines, reducing cable maintenance costs to near zero and increasing the product yield rate by 10%.

British Sugar and Virgin Media O2 Business have switched on a private mobile network, spanning four UK factory sites in Wissington, Cantley, Bury St Edmunds and Newark. The new private network will provide dedicated, secure 4G connectivity for all of British Sugar’s manufacturing facilities, as part of a major ‘Factories of the Future’ upgrade.

The custom-built private O2 4G network will connect multiple IoT (Internet of Things) devices, enabling British Sugar to introduce innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), automated production lines, robotics and drones. AI will be used to monitor operations in real-time and predict maintenance and potential downtime in advance, to reduce disruption, cut down on wastage and deliver cost and energy savings – helping avoid unnecessary emissions.

Moreover, the wireless tank level monitoring market is expected to reach nearly a quarter of a billion dollars by 2027, per forecasts from Berg Insights. This demand will be driven by the growing need to increase efficiency while lowering costs, something the Internet of Things (IoT) is making possible. Supply levels for stored liquids, gasses, fuels, oils, chemicals and solids, including grains and even ice, can be intelligently monitored with IoT-enabled sensors. Only cellular provides scalable, flexible and cost-effective connectivity to ensure tank levels remain actively monitored and maintained.

American multinational home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool adopted 3D printing17 through a partnership with Singapore service bureau Spare Parts 3D. They are using the technology to “combat obsolescence and fulfil part-shortage areas.” While this will result in cost-savings for the company, Whirlpool believes that the most significant outcome is the impact on customer care—customers can receive brand new spare-parts whenever they need it. The emergence of 5G can supercharge this process by enabling operators to connect with multiple standalone 3D printers, so they can monitor and control the 3D printing processes remotely. 

Glass Factory

A fully connected factory enables manufacturers to understand exactly where parts are during the production process and allows customers a window into the factory. By feeding data into a digital dashboard, customers can understand, influence and even lead connected work cells. This facilitates new business models, centred on the accuracy of customer deliveries based on machine time, also known as “machining by the hour”. The end result is greater insight and operational efficiencies for the manufacturer, while offering customers more predictability and control from the get-go.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable a Glass Factory?

AE Aerospace has acquired high-quality wireless 5G and installed a range of sensors across the factory floor to enable wireless connectivity between machines, allowing high volume data capture. The ability to understand production flows and machine time utilisation is what will enable AE Aerospace to offer machine time to its clients.

Peter Bruch, Managing Director and Co-Owner, explains:

“This complements our vision to create a ‘Glass FActory’ where customers can see exactly where their parts are in the manufacturing process.  By feeding data directly into the digital dashboard, customers are able to influence and even lead…our connected work cells.  That enables us to start selling ‘machine by the hour’.  The data stream provides real-time condition monitoring for each machine, meaning we can very accurately project when parts will be finished and where there is an available capacity or bottleneck.”

Worker Support, Training & Assisted Navigation

5G’s high bandwidth and low latency transforms worker support and training. AI-powered guidance, real-time collaboration over ultra high-definition video—or immersive augmented and mixed reality experiences—can be extremely useful for assembly, maintenance and inspection activities, as well as navigating around a warehouse to find a specific part. 5G-enabled digital instructions can be fed directly to a worker at the point of use via devices such as wireless hand-held tablets and personal headsets. Hexagon found that one-third of manufacturers find comparing parts to spec difficult. With AR, this can be drastically simplified. 

Enabling such interventions within a manufacturing environment requires reliable, highly secure real-time wireless data transfer, especially as employees move throughout the floor. Additionally, wireless connectivity must provide extremely accurate positioning and the ability to handle a high density of connected devices anywhere in the factory. 5G is the perfect solution and can offer more detailed support for workers—removing the need to leave the factory floor, reducing time wasted looking for parts, instructions or designs, and decreasing the need to send specialised experts to site.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable training, worker support and assisted navigation?

The 5G-ENCODE project deployed augmented and virtual reality to support design, training and advanced human–machine interfacing, enhancing the quality of manual layup of composites. 5G Factory of the Future implemented distributed and shared hybrid virtual spaces. It is thought that low latency instructions, enabled by 5G technology, could save about five seconds per instruction read compared with traditional methods. Using augmented and mixed reality, content is fed directly to workers at the point of use via devices such as wireless hand-held tablets and personal headsets. The industrial application integrates digital work instructions with CAD designs to help engineers carry out production and maintenance activities. It can also test the use of visual inspection to validate the positioning of labels and the parts they attach to in order to validate that a label has been positioned correctly and attached to the correct part. The technology is expected to create a reduction in travel costs (65%) and maintenance time (15%) arising from real-time, worldwide collaboration and increased ease of training and maintenance support.

Samsung is similarly using an AT&T 5G network to leverage its best people to train new employees and direct workflow by using extended reality. 

Mo Katibeh, EVP and CMO of AT&T Business, said:

“You can now have your best trainer in the country lead your new employees on interactive training experiences.

In manufacturing, turnover is in the high teens.  So up to one-fifth of the workforce can be brand new every year.”

To find out more, watch the video below. 

Elsewhere, at the Port of Rotterdam, testing engineers from Shell have been equipped with an industrial tablet connected to 5G; important information, such as temperature or pressure of the process installation, is added to the tablet by way of augmented reality. This results in more efficient maintenance, in addition to an easily accessible digital recording of the process which can be shared with all relevant parties. 5G enabled smart helmets have also been provided to maintenance personnel who can stay in touch with experts  via video and audio to immediately decide what repairs are required. This is shortening the lead time for these inspections from days to hours.  Similarly, Northumbrian Water Group has also used a 5G private network to enable experienced technicians to remotely guide on-the-ground teams through complex tasks by relaying real-time infrastructure data and instructions. This is expected to considerably impact productivity. 

Nokia has worked with NTT DOCOMO to leverage a private 5G network for real-time coaching using AI. Machine operators are monitored using cameras, with an AI-based system that provides feedback on their performance on an analysis of their movements. 

Digital Twins

Digital twins, powered by advanced connectivity solutions, promise manufacturers fewer mistakes and reduced time to market. Using data from sensor networks, factories can be replicated in a digital twin that not only grants a full-factory view of all operations but offers manufacturers the ability to run “what if?” scenarios and test changes in a virtual environment (this could be used, for example, to design a new plant for a production line). Businesses can quickly assess the impact of changes and minimise costly downtime and recalibrations. According to a survey from LNS research, 25% of manufacturing executives surveyed said they believe a digital twin could help increase throughput, while Hexagon found that digital twins can deliver a 10% reduction in rework. 

Where has 5G been deployed to enable a digital twin?

Read Vicki Deblasi's article in which she explores the question Could 5G open doors to more digital twins?

5G Factory of the Future created data-driven digital twins to explore historical data and investigate solutions to business challenges, such as floor space costs and optimisation. Its implementation enabled a more flexible manufacturing capability, estimated to result in a 15-20% machine utilisation improvement (reduction in idle time, improved scheduling) and factory efficiency—arising from data-driven decision making, real-time asset location and inventory accuracy, efficient scheduling, asset performance optimisation, and improved predictive maintenance.

Telefónica and Gestamp, a multinational company dedicated to the design, development and manufacture of automotive components, have implemented a 5G-connected factory use case in one of the Gestamp plants in Barcelona. The project is virtualising a complete factory and connecting it to 5G to improve the decision-making process. Data is captured and processed in real time from the operation of industrial equipment, such as robotic welding cells, through the nearby computing capabilities that 5G and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) enables. 

Rene Gonzalez, Advanced Manufacturing Corporate Director at Gestamp said:

“This 5G Connectivity project is a key element within our strategy to increase the flexibility of our industrial facilities.

The adoption of 5G technology takes place at a time of great technological disruption in the automotive industry, within an environment in which vehicle manufacturers offer increasing customisation in their models, so manufacturing has to adapt and add the layer of software and intelligence that allows us to do things differently.”

Kaeser, a leading manufacturing company and compressed air products provider, applied digital twins. The technology helped the company switch from selling a product to selling a service. Digital Twin system facilitated Kaeser with operational data on the equipment during its lifecycle, especially the air consumption rate. The monitoring allowed Kaeser to charge clients based on air consumption rather than a fixed rate. As a result, the company reduced commodity costs by 30% and on-boarded nearly half of all major vendors using digital twins. IDC cited that companies who invested in digital twin tech in 2018 could expect a 30 percent improvement in cycle times of critical processes.

High Precision Mobile Asset Location Tracking In factories and warehouses

Just-in-time manufacturing demands a reduction in waste at all levels, including wasted time and motion. This can include the hours spent waiting for goods to arrive or moving around vast factories and warehouses searching for the tools or materials needed. Keeping track of components, products and expensive equipment in the factory is a critical but often manual and time-consuming process. If assets are not located in time, there is a risk of project and production delays. 5G is here to track time-sensitive assets with pinpoint accuracy, using sensors and cameras on robots to drive operational efficiency.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable high-precision mobile asset location and tracking?

The 5G-ENCODE Project—partially funded by DCMS as part of their 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme— delivered a private 5G testbed within the National Composites Centre that monitors and tracks time-sensitive assets such as composite materials to drive operational efficiencies. View their end of project report here.

High precision indoor tracking is also being rolled out elsewhere; at the Ericsson 5G Factories in Sweden and Estonia, low-power tags on pallets, equipment and materials are transmitting real-time location data to the cloud, providing decision-makers with complete visibility of objects and machines. This enables true digital twins for traceability of inventory, reducing loss of assets and ultimately improving end-to-end efficiency. Ericsson estimates 25% efficiency gains compared to manual asset tracking.

Further afield, engineers from Verizon and Corning are exploring how the factory of the future can use 5G to dramatically speed data collection, allow machines to communicate with each other in near real-time, and wirelessly track and inspect inventory using 5G-connected cameras. 

Factory Automation: Robots

5G networks offer manufacturers the chance to take automation to the next level, deploying smarter, more collaborative and agile robots. Its high bandwidth and connection density means 5G delivers ubiquitous connectivity: enabling robots to undertake simultaneous and more complex tasks alongside automated quality inspections, which allows for shorter lead times and drives operational efficiencies. This isn’t about replacing human workers; we are utilising the unique characteristics of 5G to better harness the potential of robots and cobots, freeing up human workers to spend their time where they can have the greatest impact.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable factory robots?

In partnership with WM5G, MTC launched its 5G capability, trialling a purpose-built private 5G network aimed at helping manufacturers boost resilience and productivity through innovation. The 5G-enabled system features automated logistics, robotics and vision inspection to serve production lines with varied inspection requirements. Autonomous mobile robots transport components across the factory to and from a fully automated visual inspection cell, where a high definition camera mounted on a robot arm captures the product and a vision software checks against component design specifications. The robots re-orientate to assist the operation and a safety laser scanner is used for safe process execution. By communicating with each other through 5G, speedy visual inspections check each component meets specifications before autonomously delivering them to a following stage in the process based on the inspection outcomes. The 5G private network allows for the implementation of an intelligent, highly flexible inspection solution, able to measure and analyse varied products at any time.

In South Korea, major telecommunications operator KT is supplying an industrial robot for packaging processes to a local auto parts maker, Parkwon. This bot is controlled by KT’s 5G service and is said to be able to cut down packaging times by 28%. Meanwhile, Pickit has created robots equipped with HD cameras that can use computer vision to locate parts. Since 5G enhances computing power beyond device capacity, data analysis can occur in the edge cloud. The robots themselves require minimal processing power.

Already, hundreds of companies have automated with Pickit, achieving overwhelming positive results: 
“What we saw was consistency—it runs at a certain rate all the time,” said Adam Wiltsie, Plant Manager, Vanamatic.

Dough Sandord, Controls Engineer, 21st Century Plastics, commented:

“Pickit frees up an operator to effectively do two jobs.”

Vodafone and ABB have worked together to design and prototype an innovative assembly station using a two-armed collaborative robot, called YuMi which works by an operator’s side to complete tasks like assembling valves. The cobot adapts to human movements in real-time and instantaneously gathers and transfers data. A vision system built into the cobot allows it to perceive the environment, watch the operator and adjust its actions and trajectories as necessary.

AI software enables the cobot to recognise and predict human movement and actions so it can  safely coordinate with the operator, forming an augmented partnership between the two – enhancing productivity as well as the ergonomics to improve the operator’s working conditions.

5G wireless communication enables a revolutionary, flexible design of the assembly cell. It facilitates communication and large throughput between the data-intensive intelligent vision system and YuMi. In addition, the 5G network allows the system to remotely run powerful algorithms, i.e. machine learning, and to process the collected data in real time.

Ericsson and Audi have successfully tested a robot cell similar to those operating in Audi factories today, but over 5G connectivity. A robot arm was used to build an airbag while a laser curtain protected the open side of the robot cell; the ultra-low latency and reliability of 5G ensured that if a factory worker were to reach into the cell, the robot would stop instantly, preventing accidents. This quick response is not possible through traditional Wi-Fi or previous-generation mobile networks: such machines typically require restrictive wired technology. A 5G network, therefore, increases the flexibility, safety and efficiency of a production line and allows closer cooperation and working between robot and human

Henning Loser, head of the production lab for Audi, said:

“5G connects all the dots in our production environment, resulting in tremendous flexibility improvements, enhanced connectivity and a complete reimagining of what safe human-robot collaboration can look like.”

According to recent research by Ericsson, Autonomous Mobile Robots offer many benefits, such as freeing up forklift operators to do other factory tasks, and improving worker safety since robots can easily manoeuvre through hazardous environments. Plus, they handle materials much more accurately, so can eliminate up to 30% of typical scrap. Amazon's warehouses, for example, use advanced robotics and AI to automate various tasks such as sorting, packing, and shipping, improving efficiency and reducing operational costs. 

Factory Automation: AGVs, AVs and AMRs

Powered by advanced networks, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) drive operational efficiency, ensuring safer and more agile deployment by way of more response data, collision detection sensors, real-time connections and human remote control. The advanced connectivity and low latency offered by 5G additionally assists simultaneous localisation, along with the mapping and moving of stationary robots that can identify the nearest transport asset. AMRs can also be equipped with sensors that monitor conditions in the factory.  The end result? Seamless flow of goods, materials and data throughout the factory, delivered by machine.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable AGVs, AVs and AMRs?

Worcester Bosch, the UK's first 5G factory with a private network and mobile edge computing, installed a network of collision sensors on robots throughout the factory to improve worker safety.

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) also has a 5G private network, similarly used to facilitate automated logistics, robotics and vision inspection, providing production lines with varied inspection requirements; for example, autonomous mobile robots are being used to rapidly transport components across the factory to an inspection cell where products are checked against design specifications.

The 5G CAL project worked with the Nissan plant in Sunderland (the largest car plant in the UK) to test the ability of 5G to remotely control an autonomous 40-tonne truck. Within the project, 5G was used to provide high bandwidth, low latency and highly reliable bi-directional communications with the vehicle, demonstrating the ability of 5G to enable the safe and secure remote operation of the CAV. 

As part of the 5G-SMART project, the software controlling autonomous robots is moved to an edge cloud platform that connects to robots via 5G. The project is testing the ability of robots to smartly navigate a space, including collision avoidance.

Atlas Copco Airpower is also using 5G to wirelessly control AGVs via cameras and environmental monitoring sensors across the factory.  The end result is more agile robots, something which has traditionally been a problem for AGVs.  

5G and MEC is being used at the Huaheng factory in China, to power AGVs that are being implemented for asset tracking and smart warehousing services. The solution can flexibly meet the requirements of multiple AGVs in operation at the same time for multi-vehicle cooperative operation. Elsewhere in China, the Xinfengming Group factory is using 5G for the deployment of intelligent guided vehicles to move large volumes of fibre cakes on the factory floor with smart dispatch control. Under the 5G network, these vehicles can operate with greater stability and improved transport efficiency, facilitating safer production. Compared to traditional Wi-Fi solutions, the use of 5G greatly reduced disconnection rates from the vehicles and reduced control latency to less than 10ms.

Using AMRs, Nokia, DOCOMO and OMRON are trialling the concept of a layout-free production line. As product cycles become shorter due to fast-changing consumer demands, manufacturing sites are under increasing pressure to rearrange production lines at short notice. By taking advantage of 5G's high speed, large capacity, low latency and ability to connect multiple devices, the manufacturers will see AMRs automatically conveying components to the exact spot where they are required based on communication with production line equipment.

John Harrington, President and CEO, Nokia Japan said:

“This trial will allow us to address some of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers today.

The stable, lower-latency and higher throughput wireless communications that come with 5G allow them to truly embrace the Internet of Things.  Production lines will be more flexible and adaptable, and productivity on the factory floor can be more easily improved.”

Meanwhile, the European INGENIOUS project is exploring how 5G can enable multi-tasking autonomous robots in production lines, requiring latencies of just a few milliseconds. At the LG Factory in South Korea, the Mobile Manipulator Specification controls the movement of autonomous mobile robots and offers them the optimal route to carry out logistics over a 5G network. When any obstacles are found, the route is changed automatically; this allows workers to monitor the conditions of the robots, such as their battery status and locations in and outside the factory in real-time.

In China, 5G has been deployed in over 200 factories with measurable benefits in terms of performance and cost. Specifically, at Midea, 5G replaced traditional Wi-Fi for its automated guided vehicles for an 8% improvement in logistics efficiency and a 10% reduction in operation and maintenance cost due to increased connection stability.

Tracking & Monitoring of Tools & Machine Parts

Deployed advanced connectivity solutions increases productivity, reduces downtime and facilitates compliance. With the high bandwidth 5G offers, it is possible to deliver ultra high-definition video feeds and deploy a greater density of sensors, creating the opportunity to connect and monitor tools and machine parts. As a result, the location, use and performance of individual tools can be tracked to oversee calibration, usage and faults. This can enable predictive maintenance to minimise downtime, increase productivity and help manufacturers understand what tools are really needed.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable tracking and monitoring of tools and machine parts?

AE Aerospace—utilising a private 5G network—is using real-time ultra-high-definition image comparisons and calibration tracking to unlock greater levels of efficiency.  Production units have many surfaces, holes and screw threads that must be measured manually with gauges. By tagging all the gauges, their location can be tracked and identified in real-time over 5G. The ability to understand what tools are needed when and why and whether they require recalibration, will identify any production pinch points, accelerate the location process and increase the speed and accuracy of measurement.   Operational and productivity gains here are significant.

Ericsson’s 5G smart factory in Nanjing, China harnesses 5G to generate data, connecting everything from screwdrivers to entire warehousing systems. This has enabled the factory to dramatically improve efficiency by tracking the use of tools and dispatching services and maintenance accordingly. The factory anticipates significant potential benefits such as automated usage tracking as well as optimising its maintenance. Early on in this case study, the manufacturer showed that breakeven can be reached in less than two years and that the first year can provide a 50% return on investment. 

GSMA outlines a use case being explored by a major white-goods manufacturer for remote monitoring of tools that are given to suppliers, in order to ensure the integrity of the supply chain. Cases have occurred whereby subcontractors have illicitly further outsourced production to other factories and re-located equipment supplied by the respondent, to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities in countries with lower labour costs. This carries a substantial risk of reputational damage, particularly if the resultant goods are produced to a lower standard of quality or fail to adhere to worker safety and rights required of the original sub-contract. Relying on internal connectivity at contractor premises to determine location may not necessarily prevent such instances, particularly if location data can be spoofed with VPN services. Instead, restricting remote connectivity to public 5G networks offers a solution.

Enhanced Worker Safety

Manufacturing is a heavily regulated industry where safety, security, and standards are paramount. 5G networks with their reliability and low latency can power a range of technologies and solutions that will ensure workers are able to safely operate tools and machines and navigate their surrounding environment. Vital for both employee wellbeing and productivity, solutions include, but are not limited to, tracking engineers’ movements, hazard detection and the monitoring of environmental variables such as gas levels.

Where has 5G been deployed to enhance worker safety?

PLINX is a construction safety system that manages the proximity of workers to hazards. Worcestershire 5G deployed the system over a private, secure and robust network, with the high-bandwidth and ultra-fast speeds inherent to 5G—enabling the system to share 360-degree data in real-time to identify movements on-site. The technology has also proved useful amid Covid-19, encouraging workers to maintain social distancing and providing detailed contact data which can help manufacturing companies reduce the impact of an outbreak. 

Ericsson’s 5G smart factory in Nanjing, China is also using 5G to improve workers’ safety. Misplacement, loss or damage to appliances, such as fire hoses, can have a severe impact on safety while entailing unnecessary costs and a decline in efficiency. The manufacturer has therefore equipped 250 fire hose cabinets with liberation sensors, using IoT to monitor unwanted movements (i.e. accidents, unauthorised relocations, or even theft) of equipment. As a result, key assets now can be located immediately, while manpower needed for paperwork and regular checkups is reduced. 

Ericsson and Audi have successfully tested a robot cell similar to those operating in Audi factories today, but over 5G connectivity—to improve safety in operations. A robot arm was used to build an airbag while a laser curtain protected the open side of the robot cell; the ultra-low latency and reliability of 5G ensured that if a factory worker were to reach into the cell, the robot would stop instantly, preventing accidents. This quick response is not possible through traditional Wi-Fi or previous-generation mobile networks: such machines typically require restrictive wired technology.

Remote Factory Visits

The high-output manufacturing industry is facing the great challenge of sustainability. Yet 5G’s ultra-low latency and high bandwidth facilitate remote manufacturing visits via robots and UHD video, which not only minimises cost but overall carbon footprint. 

Where has 5G been deployed to facilitate remote factory visits?

In collaboration with Orange, Schneider Electric—a leader in digital transformation, energy management and automation—is using a private 5G network to drive an AXYN mobile telepresence robot to arrange remote visits to their Le Vaudreuil site. The network’s performance ensures exceptionally high-quality video with minimal lag time in virtual interactions between the visitor and the Schneider Electric guide that accompanies the robot. This helps to minimise travel time and costs and, most importantly, reduce the carbon footprint while providing the end-user with a unique experience.

Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric, explained:

“The health, economic and climatic challenges make digitalisation more important than ever for companies.

The pilot conducted with Orange at Le Vaudreuil in a Schneider Electric industrial showcase validates many 5G use cases: augmented reality, remote everywhere, real-time access to data… 5G’s reliability, scalability and durability make it a connectivity solution well adapted to to Industry 4.0, for greater resilience, competitiveness and sustainability.”

Surveillance & Security

Manufacturing businesses need certainty that their networks will maintain a stable and secure connection at all times for critical tasks such as surveillance. Public 5G networks can be effectively sliced to guarantee portions of bandwidth for certain mission-critical processes or data-flows, without impacting the rest of the network. While private standalone networks guarantee ubiquitous connectivity for manufacturers.  Whichever route to 5G you choose, the added bandwidth and improved latency of 5G means AI and automated security tools (such as video surveillance) can be layered on top of the network: increasing security in factories and across the supply chain.

Where has 5G been deployed to enhance factory surveillance & security?

By replacing their legacy fixed connection with 5G, SANY heavy industry in China was able to stream HD video surveillance feeds and transmit the data to campus monitoring using MEC. The network provides an uplink bandwidth of 60 Mbps (capable of 4K high-definition video), which fully meets the requirement for HD video surveillance at SANY’s campus. 

A 5G network at the smart port in Tianjin enables surveillance and monitoring of entrances, exits, freight yards, the container bay and transaction centre. 5G has improved the video quality of the mobile surveillance systems from standard to high definition and lowered the costs of their deployment. It has also empowered the Mobile Edge Compute platform to perform real-time video analysis to improve the safety of port operations.  While the 5G-LOGGINOV has deployed 5G IoT devices at the Piraeus port in Greece to perform video analytics tasks, including video analytics to detect human presence in restricted areas.  This approach could easily be replicated in a factory or warehouse environment.

At IKD, a leading supplier of automotive aluminium die castings used in 70% of all cars, 5G replaced over 10 kilometres of cables connecting 600 machines, reducing cable maintenance costs to near zero and increasing the product yield rate by 10%.
The partners say private networking will improve performance, maintenance, operations and logistics at the plants. However, security is also a key driver of the scheme. An official statement said: “Enhanced connectivity… will allow employees and partners to have remote access to

 all business documentation, while also allowing support from back-office experts via secure terminals.”

Automated Order Reporting

Running out of parts can bring production to a halt, impacting overall customer satisfaction. But with a connected factory, automated systems can send a trigger notification to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) when assembly stations are about to run out of parts. To do this, you need to know the status, state and location; 5G is here to help.