PwC: the impact of 5G technology in manufacturing

By Sean Galea-Pace
Manufacturing Global examines PwC’s “5G in Manufacturing” report...

Technology in manufacturing isn’t a new concept. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway and the influence of robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and machine learning is only becoming increasingly prominent. 

In a 2019 study by PwC and the Manufacturing Institute, over half of manufacturers are just beginning to experiment with emerging technologies or haven’t even started yet. 5G promises super-fast, super-flexible wireless communications technology that is already implemented in neighbourhoods globally. It offers highly reliable, near-instantaneous data connectivity, which is an integral part of the vision of smart factories, connected supply chains and IoT-enabled products.

The modern factory is already a highly complex environment. Robots and advanced machinery are all equipped with a plethora of sensors that are connected to high-powered analytics engines in the cloud that assesses performance, manages production schedules, maintains supplies and orchestrates all activities on the factory floor.

After eliminating the need for wired connectivity, 5G will supplement the high-speed manufacturing environment with a far greater degree of flexibility. The sheer richness of the 5G-enabled factory offers the potential to connect to just about anything. 

What will 5G enable?

Production optimisation: Capturing real-time data on machines, inventory and production will allow companies to analyse production patterns in far greater detail. With this information, they can identify the proper sequencing of factory activities and maximise flow, helping smooth production cycles and reducing waste.

The modular factory: 5G’s potential density, speed, wide bandwidth and low latency will allow for considerable flexibility. Tools and robots can be repurposed quickly, improving efficiency and creating an environment which allows for mass customisation and manufacturing on demand.

Enterprise connectivity: 5G will allow for the integration of factory infrastructure, operational technology and resources with enterprise IT systems, allowing for further optimisation and remote control of factory processes.

Human-machine interface: The speed and density of 5G is such that it will free staff from computer terminals, providing the means to equip them with mobile data and visualisation solutions, such as tablets and augmented reality gear, enabling visual interaction with machines and products.

Supply chain integration: As transparency into the supply chain increases, having 5G networking integrated into factory tools will allow for fast, automatic replenishment of parts and supplies, which decreases delays and scales efficiency. 

Preventive maintenance: Denser arrays of sensors allow companies to monitor the status of equipment more closely. This will enable them to conduct scheduled maintenance when needed, predict the need for unscheduled maintenance before problems arise while enhancing remote diagnostics performed by suppliers of complex equipment.

Safety: The wide range of sensors available and 5G’s near instantaneous response time will create a far more safer manufacturing environment, with fewer people needed on the factory floor and more responsive emergency shut-off signals.

For more insights into 5G in manufacturing, check out the full PwC report here!


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