Manufacturers hopeful advanced technology will elevate industry
5G technology is revolutionizing the way companies do business. What was once a buzzword has now taken off at warp speed, and manufacturers across the globe are the beneficiaries.
5G is faster than any mobile network to have come before it and is specially designed to connect virtually everything on the planet. Machines, objects, devices, if it can blink, 5G can link.
The technology uses ultra-low latency to achieve higher levels of reliability, peak data speed, network capacity and a more uniform, efficient performance.
5G is also helping usher in Industry 4.0, which is quickly being regarded as the fourth industrial revolution. Traditional manufacturing techniques are becoming automated by using modern, smart technology.
Last year, General Motors integrated 5G technology into a factory it has converted into an all-electric vehicle plant.
The company will use 5G’s faster speeds to help establish a higher level of automation, machine learning, interconnectivity, and real-time data analysis.
The plan is also part of the company’s broader goal of phasing out all of its non-electric vehicles by 2035, in an effort to lower its carbon footprint while helping create a greener, more sustainable future.
“General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener, and better world,” General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in January, when the company announced it was going completely green. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”
The factory itself will be the first of its kind. Integrating the fastest mobile network ever established should be crucial, as manufacturing plants are becoming increasingly reliant on connected devices such as sensors and robotics, in addition to wearable and handheld devices.
5G technology will also help GM — and others who follow — manage all of their devices across the manufacturing plant while simultaneously allowing it to process and store data critical to its success.
“Key benefits of 5G in a manufacturing plant include reliability, speed, and sheer scale. 5G’s massive bandwidth offers the possibility to manage thousands of devices across Factory ZERO’s footprint, with ample capacity to support emerging technologies,” reads a statement on the American automaker’s website.
Worker safety will be enhanced. Quality control will be better assessed, easier to manage, and more successfully implemented.
All of this is to say, 5G has arrived, and Industry 4.0 is coming along for the ride.
“5G provides massive wireless connectivity,” Dr. Xiaoxia Zhang, senior director at Qualcomm Technologies, said. “It can accelerate the shift to Industry 4.0, the next generation of manufacturing, with the industrial Internet of Things for connectivity and analytics.”
The manufacturing sector, quite frankly, could use the help. The industry currently employs only 12 million people, down from 17 million in the year 2000. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t make things any easier, and it exposed structural deficiencies and amplified supply chain disruptions.
Worker safety became even more paramount. Protecting your employees from dangerous heavy equipment is one thing. Doing this while also keeping them safe from a sometimes-deadly virus became a problem even the most efficient companies had to do some serious adjusting to.
Thankfully for employees and employers alike, safety is getting smarter, too. Upgraded devices and increasingly efficient digital monitoring systems have reinvigorated the way workers stay safe during their shifts.
Ryan Quiring, a senior automation consultant as well as the co-founder and CEO of SafetyTek Software, wrote a column for Automation.com explaining how far workplace safety has come in the modern era thanks to improved tech.
“Consider the many machines that have sensors to capture data about their performance, wear, energy use, etc. Many manufacturers use real-time monitoring of this data to predict when a part is likely to start failing,” Quiring wrote. “Such insights can enable a company to replace the part before it starts affecting product quality or production schedules — or poses a risk of injury.”
At the end of the day, the best way to keep workers safe, Quiring explains, is to analyze and store data that can help with developing strategies and best practices.
5G technology, in addition to new-and-improved safety systems, will help strengthen these processes and lead to better outcomes.
“Generally, it’s better to collect more, detailed data, particularly as business applications start incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities that can scan thousands of data points to find associations people are likely to miss,” Quiring wrote. “Trying to group information — for instance, capturing age ranges instead of each employee’s age —can limit the discovery of important insights.”
Through it all, the manufacturing industry has been able to maneuver the different and sometimes unique challenges thrown its way.
And it had its fair share of curveballs to deal with. Some factories shut down their operations temporarily due to the pandemic, while others shut down for good. Government restrictions put in place to protect workers and employers alike was the reason for some. Others simply couldn’t survive a decrease in demand for their products.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all was how long the pandemic has labored on. The uncertainty of when things would return to any semblance of normal hampered efforts to look towards the future since the present was so demanding.
One thing remained constant, however: the desire to move forward with smart factory initiatives aimed at providing long-term solutions.
Arjun Chandar, co-founder of IndustrialML, told Design News the industry never wavered in its long-term vision of the value of smart factories and what they can bring to the table.
“In the short term, there has not been a rush to implement smart factory initiatives, but manufacturers have universally commented on the increased need to invest in smart factory systems in 2021 and beyond,” Chandar said. “They understand that things like remote monitoring and optimized use of resources are even more critical to better survive events like this.”
Despite the challenges, the industry has made it to the other side. And it would appear to be stronger — and smarter — than ever.