5G and IoT are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry

By Brenden Rawle
Manufacturers must adopt an interconnection first approach to ride the 5G wave, connecting their devices, networks and critical ecosystems...

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 Mordor Intelligence report 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 Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Volume 3, 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 Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric® (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

  1. 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 TM Forum 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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