How 5G will revolutionize manufacturing

While every new generation of smartphones and cellular network technology has heralded a new era in high-speed communications and the onset of new services, 5G promises an unprecedented leap forward. Its implications are being examined by many industry sectors, all of which are destined to be revolutionised by it.

Manufacturing is no exception – in fact, its gains could be more profound than in many other areas. According to a study by multinational networking and telecommunications company Ericsson, with the rollout of 5G phones and networks, the business potential for the manufacturing sector in 2026 will be around $113 billion. 

Executives seem to agree. A report by Capgemini, entitled ‘5G in industrial operations: How telcos and industrial companies stand to benefit’, discovered that 80% of leaders at industrial firms believe 5G will be vital to their digitalisation over the next five years.

About the author
Brenden Rawle is Director of Interconnection EMEA, at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix.

Digital transformation

The biggest threat to manufacturing companies is not being able to move quickly enough to respond to fast-changing market conditions and customer requirements. They need to have the ability to ‘scale-up’ at a moment’s notice. This requires an interconnected value chain and agile digital infrastructure, maintenance management, and is especially important as new data-intensive innovations continue to transform the industry. 

The connection challenges manufacturers face today range from coping with the ever-increasing growth of connected devices and data traffic, to reducing energy consumption and increasing security. 5G is believed to hold the promise of revolutionising the way they hold their own in this competitive industry. Potential benefits include shorter lead times for factory floor production reconfiguration, lower costs with enterprise resource planning, and increased flexibility.

And as an aside, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, big data and cognitive computing – known together as Industry 4.0 – are starting to deliver advanced systems and processes unlike anything we have seen before. 

Subsequently, with 5G catapulting change in the world around us, manufacturing companies need to understand the technical implications of the fourth industrial revolution for their businesses, and make sure they are fully prepared for what’s coming, not least in terms of their infrastructure management.

In this world of evolving technologies and digital disruption, how will the introduction of 5G enable businesses to stay ahead of the curve and their competitors, and ensure they can handle the huge and rapid surge in data traffic it will inevitably bring?

Increasing productivity with insight

Equinix has recently published the third annual volume of The Global Interconnection Index, tracking, measuring and forecasting growth in interconnection bandwidth – the total capacity provisioned to privately and directly exchange data between companies, away from the public internet. Findings suggest there is perhaps no other industry experiencing digital disruption quite like manufacturing. 

Indeed, it shows high growth in the manufacturing industry – one of the most physically distributed industries is digitally restructuring for new efficiencies and revenue streams. When cross-industry data exchange is factored in, the industry is expected to comprise 12% of all interconnection bandwidth globally. And this growth is likely only going to continue as we move towards the widespread implementation of 5G, and  the associated panacea of the ‘smart factory’ and data-driven decision making. 

Manufacturing companies are increasingly exploring ways of streamlining operations to improve both efficiency and productivity. The lure of speed and productivity enhancements, coupled with potential cost savings, is encouraging factory operators to experiment with next-generation 5G networks. 

This new cellular network technology can be up to 100 times faster than 4G. The leap forward is immense: it will enable communication between connected devices and servers to take place in as close to real-time as possible. This ultra-low latency will allow manufacturers to use sensor-equipped devices to rapidly gather and process data to improve the efficiency of production. This gives the ability to undertake complex processes many, many times faster, increasing productivity and saving cost.

Predicting problems in real-time

Manufacturing errors due to broken or inadequate machinery can impose huge costs, created through  the waste of up to 25% of materials and halted production, resulting in a loss of anything from thousands, to millions of pounds.  

This is where a 5G network will also support operational advantage – its speed and reliability mean there will be virtually zero delay between devices and the servers they communicate with, helping to identify and avoid potential errors before they occur. For example, machinery making vehicle components will have sensors communicating information via 5G, supporting the reduction in the number of errors and wasted energy, and in turn saving money.

The vastly increased volume of data traffic that 5G will bring will create new challenges, as will the complexity of that data. Data centre companies such as Equinix are preparing to help companies ensure they have the secure, scalable and robust digital infrastructure in place to cope. Indeed, in order for manufacturing companies to meet the growing digital demands of the future, they must re-architect their IT infrastructures and reinvent supply chains to be built around data sharing, collaboration and innovation.

The promise of a 5G network

With so much innovation already taking hold in the manufacturing industry – such as using cloud platforms and cloud management software to create a scalable and secure digital infrastructure – companies need to start planning for how they will utilise a 5G network’s ultra-low latency to optimise real-time predictive maintenance and increase productivity, in order to stay ahead in this highly-competitive sector.

And with 5G very visibly on the horizon, it is even more important for manufacturers to have this infrastructure in place already, ensuring they are not left playing catch-up when new technologies are introduced and can deliver the best possible service to customers, as and when they need it.

Brenden Rawle is Director of Interconnection EMEA, at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix.

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