5G brings an impressive list of benefits to most industries, including support for a massive number of connected devices, latency as low as to be comparable to wired connections, and extremely high network speeds, among other features. For the manufacturing industry in particular, 5G will bring about a monumental paradigm shift so great, experts have described it as Industry 4.0.
This fourth revolution of production comes after the first industrial revolution, when steam power was used to boost human efforts. Assembly line mass production (2.0) and computer control (3.0) followed. What 5G brings to the table, to enable the 4.0 breakthrough, are “cyber-physical production systems” which make the manufacturing process even more automated than before, featuring semi-autonomous machines communicating with each other to keep the production line going, with very little human intervention.
Unlocking Industry 4.0 Potentials with 5G
Supporting Industrial IoT: 5G supports massive connections with low latency. Sensors can be placed everywhere along the production line, and these Internet of Things (IoT) devices provide real-time feedback, without delay, to cloud-based high performance computing systems running sophisticated algorithms that manage autonomous regulation. Dynamically and automatically optimizing procedures or whole processes in real time, based on feedback from IoT sensors and other inputs and with no human intervention, these systems create unprecedented safety, with fewer staff on the factory floor and faster emergency shut-off. The accelerated throughput enables new ultrafast production (requiring real-time automated management) that finish procedures in just minutes instead of hours or days.
Transforming Personalized Retail Experience: Under traditional mass production, exact copies of products are created in large volumes, whereas personalized handicrafts are expensive and slow to produce. The “Smart Factory” of Industry 4.0 combines the best of both worlds, allowing customizations to be cost-effective even at very small volumes, without compromising on production speed or accuracy. Consumers can, for example, order personalized products via a retail website, and the Smart Factory would dynamically adjust the assembly line (even to produce a single customized product) before automatically reconfiguring for another customer’s order. This significantly boosts market access for vendors to add value by creating tailored products that serve multiple small customer segments. This new level of supply chain integration, from warehouse to factory to retail, brings unprecedented transparency, efficiency and scalability into the “Just In Time” manufacturing approach. It maximizes speed and production quality, while minimizing delays and risks, through dynamic and automatic replenishment of parts and supplies, adjustment of factory tooling, and acceleration of other stages, all seamlessly and globally, in real-time.
Facilitating Human-robot Collaboration: With 5G’s speed and density gains, staff are freed from workstations, enjoying more flexibility in their physical locations and roles. By combining 5G with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and robotics, manufacturers will also achieve a new level of human-robot collaboration in the Smart Factory. These “co-bots” will be able to perform production tasks with extremely high precision, agility and safety. Skilled production workers no longer need to be on-site. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that humans are vulnerable in the production environment. Requirements for social distancing and constant disinfection of tools and surfaces have created disastrous delays at factories, and many manufacturers have issued warnings for 2021 of production slowdowns, and even stoppages of certain product lines, due to these COVID-19 impacts.
However, it is important not to overlook other crucial aspects that enable Industry 4.0 behind the scenes. Just as steam-powered factories need steam engines, Smart Factories require a “full stack” of comprehensive technologies, including innovative infrastructures that incorporate the 5G network, along with high performance Cloud computing and Big Data analytics capabilities. To learn about how CITIC Telecom CPC’s extensive experience and world-class infrastructure makes it an excellent technology partner to support Industry 4.0 initiatives, simply contact us.
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