As the fifth-generation wireless standard bringing faster speed, lower latency, and greater connectivity, 5G holds the key to super-charging the industrial internet of things, or IIoT.
In manufacturing, 5G will enable intelligent automation and production, making factories smarter and more flexible to cope with increasingly complex, fast-moving markets and volatile product life cycles. As the animating principle in each technology that it brings to life, 5G is the catalyst for unleashing the full range of capabilities underpinning transformative technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and cloud computing.
The link between 5G and IIoT is important because 5G paves the way for a smarter means of production in which IIoT devices and systems from all stages of fabrication and assembly are in constant communication—streamlining processes, resolving manufacturing bottlenecks, uncovering quality issues before defective products reach the market, and performing both predictive and preventive maintenance to avoid costly downtime and expensive shutdowns.
But despite these avowed benefits and various attempts to encourage IIoT adoption in manufacturing and other industries, the technology has yet to gain traction or wider adherence in the industrial space.
That sense of unfulfilled expectations or unrealized potential is about to change, however, with 5G, as specific elements of the new technology will have a measurable impact and improve networking on the factory floor.
5G elements of interest to the factory
The first 5G element of interest is Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC), a specification and functionality in 5G that is of critical importance to manufacturing. Scheduled to be released later this year by the 3GPPP standards body, URLLC will accommodate applications and services bearing stringent lag-time and response requirements, where no delays in communication can be tolerated. On the factory floor, URLLC will be necessary in precision robotics, motion control, and other similar tasks or applications—areas that the 4G networks of today struggle with or are unable to support at all.
A second 5G element of interest to manufacturing is 5G support for private 5G networks, which are local area networks using 5G technologies in a dedicated configuration. While offering all the benefits of 5G, confinement of the private network to its owner—in the case of manufacturing, the factory—also creates a more secure system and environment for communication and resource monitoring. The security possible from private 5G networks may help assuage concerns about the ability of manufacturing to fend off cybersecurity threats and other safety-related incursions into factory sites.
Two other 5G elements of interest to manufacturing are the technology’s ability to scale easily in diverse production settings across the manufacturing spectrum; and the greater bandwidth capacity of 5G to serve bandwidth-intensive applications.
Initial 5G applications for IIoT
Suitable initial applications of 5G will revolve around automated mobile robots on both the factory floor and warehouse grounds. Tests have shown that compared to Wi-Fi-connected vehicles, 5G-connected vehicles respond more quickly to obstructions.
Another 5G application will be augmented reality (AR), as 5G connectivity makes a seamless, lag-free AR experience possible, with significant implications on user training, worker safety, and remote deployment.
5G could also herald new applications, such as the deployment of industrial robots to test hazardous materials or deal with the aftermath of an industrial accident, keeping factory workers out of harm’s way.
The all-important question: When?
Perhaps the foremost question on everyone’s mind is when the world can expect to see the wonders of 5G manifest on the factory floor. The short answer: not just yet.
Just as networks do not magically appear overnight, the mainstream adoption of IIoT will take time for all the components to fall into place. The development of the 5G standard, for one, isn’t complete—work on the URLLC specification is ongoing. Once all the parts forming the 5G standard are finalized, the 5G specs must then find their way into the silicon chip, which is then integrated into devices, which are then installed and deployed on the factory floor.
For these reasons, the widespread adoption and rollout of 5G in the manufacturing world is not likely within the next 10-15 years, projections from IHS Markit | Technology show. But while adoption of 5G by factories will take time, the potential for the new technology to completely transform manufacturing is too great for the industry and its players to ignore.
Ultimately, 5G’s game-changing, powerful features will lay the foundation for a digital infrastructure that will be key to creating the factory of the future.
For more information on IHS Markit | Technology research on 5G, visit our website and refer to the Transformative Technologies research service. For more information on the industrial IoT, go to the Industrial IoT, Software & Communications research category, under the Manufacturing Technology research service. IHS Markit | Technology is now a part of Informa Tech.