5G in the Supply Chain

Manufacturers are under pressure to become more efficient, both in the factory and throughout the supply chain

As it stands, the industry generally relies on logistics firms to control supply chains, whether that be raw materials arriving on-site or finished goods being shipped out. But end-to-end visibility of products is key—what’s more, certain goods have very specific shipping requirements meaning it’s important to track both the location of goods and the conditions they are travelling in. Additionally, Brexit has made shipping to Europe more complex, having a particularly significant impact on perishable items. 

Advanced connectivity offers a welcome solution. 5G networks will assist the supply chain via automation and enhanced track and trace capabilities: innovative technologies, powered by 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency, will ensure everything runs smoothly. For example, automating processes and custom checks, which will save manufacturers a copious amount of time—or deploying sensors at a pallet or individual goods level to offer pinpoint accuracy location tracking. Aside from the efficiency gains, implementing these solutions will boost overall reputation (decreasing late deliveries or damaged goods) that will, ultimately, have a positive financial impact.

Supply Chain Applications

Asset Location Tracking for Goods Inside the Factory and Warehouses

Factories and their warehouses can be vast spaces, with the Nissan car plant at Sunderland standing at 362,000 metres squared, the equivalent of 50 football pitches. Even SME manufacturers have substantial footprints, such as AE Aerospace whose Birmingham factory is 16,500 square feet. Tracking the movement of materials and goods throughout the factory floor and warehousing space is imperative to streamlining production.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable asset location tracking of goods inside factories & warehouses?

The 5G-ENCODE project delivered a private 5G testbed within the National Composites Centre (NCC) to monitor and track time-sensitive assets such as composite materials to drive operational efficiencies.

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. 

Inter-Modal Asset Location Tracking for Goods Outside of the Factory

Most goods—both inbound and outbound—will move through multiple transport modes to reach their destination and as a result, tracking is usually complex. It is estimated that less than 10% of logistics companies have full visibility of their supply chain. But 5G networks make it much easier to share data across multiple sites, enabling inter-modal asset location tracking for goods. For manufacturers, this means less reliance on logistics firms to provide tracking data, greater visibility and ultimately an enhanced ability to adjust activities to maximise uptime and throughput.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable intermodal asset location tracking of goods?

The 5G Logistics project connected the Bristol port to 5G, enabling full traceability of products through geo-fencing and continuous monitoring of the movement of goods and materials. Tracking at a container, pallet and individual item level not only improved visibility but boosted efficiency, as real-time automated monitoring and recognition could replace existing manual scanned barcode identification. For manufacturers, this means reassurance that goods are where they’re supposed to be and can move through ports quickly and seamlessly. Read the end of project report here.

INGENIOUS embraces the 5G Infrastructure Association (5GIA) and Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) vision for empowering smart manufacturing and smart mobility verticals. Using 5G-enabled IoT and satellite technology, it aims to provide end-to-end connectivity to facilitate intermodal asset tracking: enabling enhanced real-time monitoring of products outside of the factory (both inbound and outbound, including those in shipping containers sailing across oceans without connectivity). Smart IoT gateways will also be installed allowing interoperability between heterogeneous IoT tracking devices; this will achieve less reliance on logistic firms and therefore, more control and lower overall costs. 

Digital Twins

Advanced connectivity can enable better and more informed decision making. By increasing the number of sensors that can be deployed, 5G networks facilitate the creation of live digital twins, replicating the manufacturing environment digitally. Allowing more thorough and accurate testing of product and plant designs, without wasting valuable time or money. Processes can also be analysed in greater detail and maximised for both efficiency and sustainability. You may feel you have already made the necessary investments in technology and connectivity but the speed, volume and reliability of 5G is unmatched.

5G will deliver for UK vehicle battery manufacturer Hyperbat, in a virtual reality digital twin proof-of-concept. Hyperbat design and engineering teams will be able to virtually walk around and interact with 3D life-size objects in real-time through a single self-contained device. Employees in different locations will be able to build a 1:1 scale physical product on the factory floor, review designs in real-time, explore form factors such as maintenance and crash detection of an electric vehicle and retrofit high-performance batteries into specific dimensions. The key enabler is the high speed, low latency and large data handling capabilities of a private 5G network.

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 30% of manufacturing executives believe a digital twin would reduce costs. 

Digital twins enable manufacturers to determine how best to streamline the production environment before physically changing any processes. Designing in a digital realm before implementing in the physical world increases efficiency, productivity and reduces operational risk. This delivers several benefits, including a 10% reduction in rework, which not only has financial implications but also improves worker satisfaction. Additionally, it enables an environmentally friendly 10% reduction in scrap. 

Asset Status Tracking

The use of advanced networks and IoT sensors allow manufacturers to monitor both the environment in which goods are shipped and the conditions of the goods themselves. Real-time monitoring enables rapid detection of any deviation in conditions (for example, temperature) and allows for quick intervention. This is essential for meeting customer expectations and ensuring perishable items are delivered in optimal condition.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable asset status tracking?

The 5G Factory of the Future project deployed a 5G enabled Chain of Custody system to increase visibility across the supply chain network through all tiers for assets and products. Smart monitoring of assets in transit enabled a Certificate of Conformity to be created, ensuring the product arrived in an acceptable standard. Sensors attached to goods and containers record environmental factors such as temperature, events such as shock, and location. Through this real-time condition monitoring, the project estimated a 30% reduction in lost and damaged assets and improved scheduling accuracy. Read their end of project report here.

To DHL Supply Chain, 5G is a critical piece of technology that enables better services for their customers and more efficient supply chain operations. Using private networks and IoT sensors to track, trace and record the position and status of packages, the internationally-renowned company utilises innovations—such as the Thermonet network - which is able to record the temperature of sensitive life sciences shipments through international transport lanes. This means DHL’s customers are able to optimise their packaging requirements and DHL can provide assurance of end-to-end trackability of environmental conditions.

Customs Process Management

The UK’s departure from the EU has made the process of customs increasingly complex, with significant impacts for manufacturers. Late arrivals of raw materials can delay or halt production processes, and delayed deliveries to customers can incur penalty charges. When dealing with perishable items such as food or medicines, the potential loss is even greater. But reliable wireless connectivity can facilitate a seamless, stress-free transition through borders, globally.

Where has 5G been deployed to enable customs process management?

The 5G Logistics project based at Bristol Port used 5G to enable geofencing and the real-time monitoring of goods for customs purposes in potential Freeport multiple zone scenarios. They demonstrated the potential for improved coordination between Freeports and linked free zones and the replacement of existing manual scanned barcode automation, meaning quicker and easier movement through customs points. With plans to create 8 new Freeports across the UK, the learnings from this project can be transferred to other UK ports and Enterprise zones.

From August 2018, together with China Unicom Tianjin and Trunk Technology, ZTE commenced the deployment of a commercial 5G network and a MEC edge cloud system at Tianjin Port's container terminal. Nine 5G macro base stations (3.5 GHz) and a MEC edge computing service platform were deployed to provide a quasi-private 5G network environment that would meet the port's smart computing needs. By November 2019, the project had completed a successful 5G use case in customs traffic management and subsequently, quarantine services at the port. The wireless network distributes shipping data, such as video surveillance and digital inspection records, to the Customs network through 5G MEC. 

The port observed that 5G “improved data security and reduced latency compared to the public 4G network”. Its traditional private network services are now to be gradually switched over to the 5G network to validate and optimise their stability, reliability and security as well as new business models under 5G.

The 5G-LOGGINOV project is deploying 5G connectivity to the Piraeus port in Greece and the port of Koper in Slovenia to support customs processes and checks.  Using 5G enabled cameras on cranes, ultra high-definition video feeds of containers being lifted can detect any tampering with security seals.

Inbound & Outbound Confirmation

5G is a dynamic, scalable network platform that adds connectivity across supply chains. With the density of sensors that can be connected with 5G, shipping confirmations can be issued not just at a general container level but down to the individual goods level, providing increased confidence and pinpoint accuracy that goods have arrived at their location. Not only helping the manufacturer’s organisation but also satisfying the customer.

5G-enabled automated hoisting

At MWC Barcelona 2023, Schneider Electric, Capgemini, and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. announced their collaboration on a first-of-its-kind 5G-enabled automated hoisting solution. The companies have joined efforts on design and installation of the solution at Schneider Electric’s hoisting lab in Grenoble, France. Replacing wired connections with wireless and unifying existing wireless connections from Schneider Electric’s industrial automation system, the 5G Private Network solution demonstrates how it can simplify and optimise digital technology deployment at scale across industrial sites such as steel plants to ports. From avionics and automotive to steel manufacturing and shipping, hoisting applications play a critical role in supply chain and manufacturing operations, where heavy materials and goods are transported over what can be hundreds of meters. These crane applications are designed to operate in challenging industrial environments: for example, under extreme temperatures and over large distances.

Customer Delivery

Logistics in manufacturing companies are risky due to the lack of control over the weather. Plus, the high likelihood of fraud and the large number of assets that need to be managed. Companies that depend significantly on transportation can consider IoT-led interconnection between various devices and systems.

Where has this been implemented?

From warehousing to fleet management and cargo tracking, IoT applications for logistics can deal with many use cases along a typical supply chain. Amazon, for example, has benefited from standalone drop shipping bots and lockers, increasing delivery convenience and making a profit. As for connected bots, when used for last-mile delivery, they can significantly increase customer satisfaction while logistics managers can use IoT for repairs and fuel expenditures.