The impact of 5G technology in the manufacturing industry
First published in Manufacturing Digital.
Ian Sharp from The Scotland 5G Centre discusses the role of 5G connectivity in manufacturing, factories of the future & working with Ericsson & Vodafone.
The Scotland 5G Centre is a national centre for accelerating the deployment and adoption of 5G connectivity in Scotland’s industry and public sectors. Ian Sharp, Head of Delivery, oversees the business development and marketing function at The Scotland 5G Centre. His main responsibility is to raise awareness of the benefits of 5G mobile private networks through innovation hubs across Scotland.
Here, he tells us more about the role of 5G in manufacturing.
A lack of awareness of 5G technology is slowing the manufacturing sector down
Through its ability to connect and manage multiple devices at a time, 5G can be instrumental in driving productivity and efficiency. In addition to its speed and reliability, it can also be used to enable geofencing, a virtual geographic boundary, which has been known to improve site management and maintenance, reduce health and safety incidents, boost inventory management processes and increase security measures.
“Many are aware of 5G through public 5G networks, normally accessed via their personal devices,” said Sharp. “However, for businesses, a private 5G network can bring with it a much broader range of benefits. Ultimately, it’s our job to help organisations recognise the value of advanced wireless connectivity and support them in adopting and implementing 5G technology.
“In a nutshell, we cover four main areas:
- Ensuring organisations have access to cutting-edge 5G technology and reliable connectivity
- Supporting them in the procurement and deployment of 5G networks
- Engaging with the business community to demonstrate the potential 5G can bring
- Fostering innovation to allow businesses to access key investment.”
The Scotland 5G Centre supports the delivery of advanced communication solutions to show businesses just how valuable 5G can be to their organisation and to the economy as a whole.
“Our aim is to encourage these businesses to adopt and use the technology rather than using it ourselves,” said Sharp. “We’ve built strong relationships with partner organisations such as Ericsson and Vodafone who are working on some incredible projects with 5G.”
Take Ericsson’s work with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Supported by a private 5G network, the company was able to use AMRs to move freely about the factory without the use of magnetic strips for guidance. It was even able to navigate hard-to-reach areas that can be dangerous for workers to access. This 5G-enabled technology not only allowed Ericsson to increase factory efficiency but also improve safety for its workers.
“It’s exciting to see more and more businesses embracing advanced wireless connectivity solutions and working on projects like ‘factory of the future’. Whether it be automated assembly or VR and AR technologies, these advancements are bringing countless benefits to manufacturers and are revolutionising the industry altogether.”
The number one challenge Sharp finds with businesses, not only in manufacturing but across a whole range of industries, is a fundamental lack of awareness of what 5G technology can do.
“Most people only know 5G from the icon that pops up on their smartphone but that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The general lack of understanding has led to some confusion about what’s fact and fiction and, like any new technology, 5G can come with a bit of a learning curve.”
Many businesses are under the impression that 5G is just a faster version of 4G and a big part of Sharp’s role is showing them why that’s not the case. Increased speed is certainly a factor but 5G has 100x more capacity to support traffic than 4G.
“It also has the potential not only to improve productivity and efficiency but also provide support to innovative organisations looking to access the benefits that come with Industry 4.0. What’s more, just because one organisation isn’t utilising 5G doesn’t mean their competitors aren’t. In fact, even though Scotland has made good progress in its use of 5G there are parts of the world that are way ahead in terms of adoption. That’s why it’s so important to spread the word about 5G technology.”
How 5G supports manufacturing
5G connectivity is a gateway to Industry 4.0 and all the functionality that comes with that. Whether it’s cloud infrastructure, mixed reality technology or digital twins, 5G can transform the speed of data, latency and connectivity, opening the door to a whole new level of optimisation and efficiency for manufacturers.
“These technologies can support businesses in their pursuit of a more innovative approach which could herald a new era of advanced manufacturing and automation. The route to a more connected future for manufacturing is through using 5G to improve operational efficiency and enable smart factories to streamline their operations remotely,” said Sharp. “The great thing about 5G technology is it can be integrated into any setting. 5G-enabled technology, particularly in the manufacturing industry, allows factories to increase productivity, troubleshoot problems remotely, and boost economic growth.
“It also allows for a simplified connectivity set-up with fewer wires and less equipment which is not only costly to maintain but can also pose safety risks to workers. Take cables for example, a typical factory will contain multiple machines which all require multiple cables running across the factory floor. Replacing even some of these wires with a private 5G network means the factory environment not only becomes safer but also more efficient.”
Technology is moving faster than ever and new developments are continuing to appear, creating exciting opportunities for growth and innovation for Sharp and his team.
“We have plans to ramp up our engagement across Scotland to ensure both industry and public sector organisations have the access they need to 5G-enabled technology and that they know what it can do to support and improve operations. As part of our plans, the Centre will be working as a support partner on the £9.1m SCONDA (Small Cells ORAN in Dense Areas) project to address the unique technical and commercial challenges of mobile networks in High-Density Demand areas in Glasgow.”