5G is poised to transform manufacturing

5G wireless holds much promise for manufacturing facilities, largely for its speed and low latency, so a few early adopters are buying into the technology, but its pervasive use in factories is still years off.

5G mobile wireless network technology
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5G promises not just super-fast connections and more bandwidth than Wi-Fi and 4G LTE but also better connectivity, low latency, and support for thousands of devices in one location, all of which are attractive manufacturing facilities, but it will be a while before it becomes the norm there, experts say.

According to Gartner, smart factories are major opportunities for 5G. While some use cases can be achieved with existing 4G LTE, most require the low latency and high reliability offered by 5G.

“Industrial companies have a significant and immediate appetite for 5G,” said Sachin Lulla, global digital strategy and transformation leader at Ernst & Young. “A new wave of hyper-connectivity is set to redefine the enterprise.” And manufacturing will lead value creation from 5G investment, he said, followed by energy and utilities, health care, the public sector, and transportation.

Today, the lack of reliable, low-latency, and high-bandwidth connectivity has hurt the adoption of cutting-edge technologies that need that kind of support, he said. “With 5G that is about to change – bringing inter-connectivity between machines, materials, and people, unlocking millions of dollars in value.” That value will come from increased productivity, lower inventory, improved uptime, worker safety, and agile supply chains, he said.

According to a recent survey Ernst & Young conducted in the U.K., 10% of companies are already allocating money for 5G, and 50% of enterprises plan to upgrade to 5G in the next two years. Manufacturers are even more aggressive, with almost two-thirds planning to implement 5G within two years of availability. “Many industrial companies have already started adopting and testing 5G,” he added.

Automakers like 5G

Audi, for example, has already started testing 5G for robotic motion control, he said. Nokia's 5G Oulu factory is using 5G for in-factory connectivity, a combination of edge computing and cloud computing, and IoT analytics. According to Lulla, that's already resulted in 30% to 50% time savings in product delivery.

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