The automation of manufacturing is picking up pace, and the development of 5G technology is destined to have a dramatic impact on the evolution of the sector. The advent of this new generation of wireless technology has the potential to play a major part in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0.
Just exactly how 5G will impact Industry 4.0 was the subject of Deep Tech Talks, a series of events organised by The Collider and GoHub to bring together corporations, industry, investors and start-ups to boost the implementation of deep tech in key sectors of our country. At this specific talk, panellists from the European tech industry discussed the developments, challenges and opportunities of 5G for manufacturing.
What exactly is 5G technology?
5G is the fifth generation mobile network. It’s designed for improved connectivity, speed, capacity and overall performance.
5G is extremely fast. Data download and upload speeds are much quicker than previous technologies. In fact, 5G is considered to be at least 10 to 20 times faster than 4G LTE. It can also support a far greater capacity than previous generations of wireless technology, able to handle thousands of simultaneously connected devices.
One particularly significant characteristic of 5G is its low latency. Latency refers to the speed with which a wireless device performs an action after being instructed to do so. The incredibly low latency of 5G means it’s more responsive, with virtually no lag.
5G is also more reliable than 4G, with increased availability in areas with limited fixed infrastructures. Such areas can use 5G and access broadband without having to install cables.
Plus, 5G is more flexible, with different characteristics adapted to meet the requirements of specific applications. As Atte Länsisalmi, Program Manager at Nokia Networks, says, “the beauty with 5G is that the same network can handle and support different use cases…even those that aren’t related to the processes itself.”
Not only does 5G mean existing applications can be carried out more quickly and reliably – allowing us to do everything we currently do with our smartphones, but faster and better – but the technology also has innovative new applications in manufacturing by accelerating interconnectivity, automation and machine learning.
What are the applications of 5G in manufacturing?
One of the main uses of 5G in manufacturing is smart machinery that can operate without human help. Smart machines can respond to real-time data to make processes more streamlined and efficient, boosting productivity and precision. Factories can collect data to accurately predict when a machine is about to break, for example, mitigating the costs of downtime.
With the development of the Internet of Things, the factories of the future will be filled with sensors monitoring aspects of production, as well as other tools. To connect all these pieces of equipment, 5G’s flexibility, high capacity and low latency is essential.
Bosch Rexroth in Bavaria, Germany, for example, has developed a modular production line where every piece of equipment is connected via 5G, which allows for the accurate monitoring of all these tools simultaneously.
Self-driving vehicles are another commonly cited application of 5G. They require precise and data-heavy maps to be able to operate and only 5G has the high bandwidth and low latency to make this possible.
Then there’s robotics, which will further change how factories operate. Rather than installing complex and heavy computers onboard the robot itself, 5G allows these computations to be done elsewhere, enabling the development of robots with greater capabilities.
5G also facilitates the implementation of augmented reality, which can be used for everything from troubleshooting to training workers.
This new mobile technology can also improve existing manufacturing applications. Not only will 5G boost network speed and quality, but with 99.999% network reliability, it can minimize the risk of data being inaccurate, lost or accessed by third parties.
What does 5G mean for the future of the manufacturing sector?
The challenges posed by 5G
While its potential is huge, 5G also raises issues for manufacturing. Firstly, workers will need to be trained in order to effectively operate and manage manufacturing processes in such a different environment. Manufacturing jobs will require extensive knowledge of complex technologies which could lead to the emergence of a skills gap.
Then there’s the question of cost. Manufacturing companies need to be confident that investing in 5G networks will create sufficient value to make it worth it. Furthermore, the industry is notoriously slow-moving. Getting to the point where the industry can monetize and make use of 5G might take a long time.
Additionally, there’s the issue of spectrums. Any device that communicates wirelessly requires spectrum, and with different bands of spectrum used for different things, these spectrums need to be carefully managed. For manufacturing plants, building and maintaining their own 5G network with its own spectrum is preferable, as they can configure the network to their specific needs and better control coverage, quality and security.
However, there is a finite amount of spectrum, and it mostly belongs to a handful of established operators who may not be willing to give up any for private networks. Given this limited spectrum availability, governments may need to step in to regulate the sharing between public and private networks. In Germany, for example, there is a dedicated spectrum for industries.
As Atte Länsisalmi says, “Hopefully regulators around the world will allocate spectrum the same way Germany has done, or make an arrangement where access can be granted via other licence owners.”
The potential of 5G for manufacturing
In the words of Miquel Martí, CEO of Barcelona Tech City, “5G will enable us to create solutions that will transform the way we live, the way we move around and the way we produce. In conclusion, a new revolution.”
In manufacturing, in particular, 5G offers huge opportunities by allowing for both improved connectivity and exciting applications in robotics and artificial intelligence. Experts predict that we will see the creation of more agile and efficient robots to take on different tasks within factories, leading to the increased automation of manufacturing. All in all, 5G could result in a massive productivity and performance boost in the industry.
The Collider: Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible
Ensuring that the most exciting and promising new technologies find the funding they deserve, The Collider brings together researchers, corporates and entrepreneurs in a collaborative effort, creating disruptive startups committed to using digital transformation for global change. Powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, our tech-transfer programme aims to connect scientific and entrepreneurial talent and bring the latest innovations to market.