5G and IoT are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry
As 5G rollout accelerates across the globe, it’s bringing a palpable excitement and increased innovation along with it. 5G’s capabilities are expected to far surpass 4G networks in handling latency sensitive machine-to-machine communications – with higher downlink speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second, latency as low as 1 millisecond, and a greater capacity of up to one million concurrent connections per square meter. This will enable a host of new technological capabilities across a plethora of verticals. Yet one sector that is primed for a 5G revolution is manufacturing.
Much has been made of the significance of the services industry in recent years, but the manufacturing sector remains – as it has always been – a crucial barometer for how wider economies are performing. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many manufacturers around the world to adapt their digital strategies to incorporate increased agility and flexibility to survive in changing times, the 5G rollout will bring considerably more innovation and transformational change in this space.
Data collection and analysis through IoT devices, coupled with 5G’s lightning fast speeds, will allow for more visibility throughout the production process. Networked sensors enable manufacturers to derive meaningful insights from real-time interactions among machines, systems, assets and things. This is one reason why, according to a from this year, by 2025 the IoT market for manufacturing is expected to grow to $575 billion with the number of connected devices in the automation sector expected to increase by a factor of 50. To work together and deliver better insights, these devices will need to be dynamically integrated with networks, clouds and digital ecosystems via fast, secure, low-latency interconnection. An interconnection approach is distinguished by the private exchange of data between businesses away from the public internet. This is where digital infrastructure providers such as Equinix play a critical role.
Interconnection is essential for 5G manufacturing use cases
5G is going to exponentially increase the amount of data movement – something manufacturers will have to address in order to remain competitive. The , a market study published by Equinix, predicts the installed private interconnection bandwidth capacity within the manufacturing sector will grow by 57% annually between 2018 and 2022 to 1,547 Tbps. To put that in context, the sector will comprise 12% of the total estimated global interconnection bandwidth across all industries worldwide by 2022.
Organizations engaged in high precision engineering are a good example. For example, a manufacturer in the UK could use 5G on its factory floor to digitize its design process to incorporate video and augmented/virtual reality. 5G technology would also enable the company to collaborate in real-time with supply chain partners and to monitor its products in the field. This is a good example of where Equinix would provide support to a business through direct and secure, low-latency connections to their ecosystem partners via (ECX Fabric®). ECX Fabric allows businesses to establish software-defined virtual connections to cloud service providers (CSPs), suppliers, customers and their own infrastructure anywhere in the world. A company could also use ECX Fabric to interconnect its own applications and data on multiple clouds including Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Other 5G manufacturing use cases
- Predictive maintenance: Keeping manufacturing assets working properly can help save companies millions of dollars. By using sensors, cameras and data analytics, companies can determine when a piece of equipment will fail before it actually does. IoT-enabled systems can detect warning signs, and then use data to create maintenance timelines and preemptively service equipment before problems occur. As a recent panel at discussed, 5G technology allows massive volumes of sensor data to be quickly and reliably collected, enabling predictive maintenance algorithms to identify potential problems and respond in milliseconds.
- Monitoring supply chains: IoT can also simplify inventory management by monitoring the supply chain to provide a clear view of a company’s moving parts. Materials and parts can be tracked from the source to the production line more efficiently, enabling just-in-time inventory and minimizing slowdowns and shortages. Sensors and mobile devices with location services can track inventory and send alerts when product stock is running low. 5G will further enhance the supply chain by providing the speed and bandwidth necessary for AI to monitor multiple data sources and protect against disruptions such as natural disasters by automatically re-routing to alternative suppliers when emergencies occur.
- Advanced robotics: Although robotics and automated systems aren’t revolutionary to anyone who’s watched a car roll off a modern assembly line, wired connectivity has limited their full potential. With the rollout of 5G, industrial processes can be monitored and controlled with greater precision and fewer network tools. According to Verizon, a 5G-driven smart factory can utilize thousands of sensors at the floor level to transmit a continuous stream of data to the cloud. Managers are then able to better monitor quality, increase speed, respond to supply fluctuations and simplify workflows.
These use cases are only the tip of the iceberg of innovation that 5G can bring to the manufacturing industry. As this technology continues to rollout globally, companies will need to be able to leverage private interconnection and distribute their core IT infrastructure at the network edge. This will also bring manufacturers greater proximity to supply chain partners, digital ecosystems, customers and the IoT devices on their factory floors. Proximate, direct and secure interconnection helps to optimize and scale collaboration while analysing the data coming from various digital IoT sources for faster operational and customer insights. As new manufacturing ecosystems develop at the edge, enterprises can more cost effectively bring products to market and better meet their customers’ needs. This will allow them to most effectively capitalize on the goldmine of technological possibilities that 5G is creating in this sector.
Brenden Rawle is Director of Interconnection in EMEA at the world’s digital infrastructure company, Equinix.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”