Unlocking the power of Industry 4.0 with 5G

As the manufacturing sector explores all the options for site transformation, discover how 5G will enhance existing Industry 4.0 deployments.

Unlocking the power of Industry 4.0 with 5G

As the manufacturing sector explores all the options for site transformation, discover how 5G will enhance existing Industry 4.0 deployments.

4G was all about enhanced mobile broadband and it spawned a host of applications like Uber and Spotify. But 5G is all about mission critical applications like remote surgery, driverless cars and massive machine type communications.

So what makes 5G such a good fit for manufacturing?

Manufacturing sites typically use fixed local area networks (LANs) to connect things, because wireless technologies can struggle in environments with a lot of metal. The trouble with LANs is that fixed cables can’t be moved easily.

Production runs often need to be reconfigured at short notice if there are supply issues or there's a surge in demand, and you can’t use LANs for retrofitting sensors – they're a trip hazard in a busy factory.

So a good, reliable, low-latency cellular technology using indoor cells is very attractive. This is where 5G.  

Using 5G to enhance manufacturing operations

Industry 4.0 is all about driving efficiency, and it can be measured using the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) score. This is calculated by multiplying three things:

  • the percentage of machines available at any given time
  • of those, the percentage that are performing as they should be
  • of those, the percentage that are producing good quality products.


5G can be used to improve the OEE score by reliably and securely connecting new sensors to measure things like vibration, pressure and temperature – all of which help predict equipment failures. 5G can also be used to monitor Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines.

CNC machines often create intricate designs in metal and are controlled by a computer. If there is any suggestion that there is a problem, they need to be shut down very quickly (within a tenth of a second) otherwise the damage can be extremely costly.

Traditionally, PCs have been strapped to machine tools to manage these shutdowns, but with the low latency and high availability of 5G, there's now a viable cost-effective alternative.

New developments in worker safety

5G, with its low latency and excellent availability, is a great enabler for what we call Mixed Reality (MR).

As experts retire, or become less able to travel, it’s often necessary for less experienced staff to resolve problems themselves.

Increasingly, augmented reality (AR) headsets are being used to allow experts to instruct staff remotely on site. Whilst this can be done over 4G, the number of dropouts and high latency can make the experience frustrating and potentially unsafe for the person being supervised.

Also, workers and robots increasingly are co-existing in close proximity. For instance, a robot might lift a heavy part over a worker’s head while the worker fits it into place. Having a reliable low latency technology like 5G is key to avoiding accidents.

5G can also be used to support virtual reality (VR) training, which has been found to be far more effective in terms of health and safety than less immersive technologies. As VR is so realistic, worse case scenarios can be played out before the trainee’s eyes, leaving far more of a lasting impression than classroom-based warnings.

How did coronavirus change things?

Coronavirus accelerated the digitisation of manufacturing, and interest in using 5G.

There used to be far greater movement of people to fix equipment or carry out routine activities. For example, a food producer might have flown someone from one country to another to clean production line pipes following a shut down.

That way of working was almost impossible during the pandemic, and we're now seeing factories becoming much more self-sufficient, and reliant on collaboration tools designed specifically for 'blue collar' workers.

5G is a key enabler, driving efficiencies and supporting employees as they collaborate.

Looking to the future

Over the next few years, we expect to see 5G being widely deployed in manufacturing, eclipsing 4G due to its low latency, high availability and higher bandwidth attributes. 

Several new developments will further facilitate this:

1. The use of mm wave spectrum

This will support up to 10Gbps connectivity over short distances. And network slicing will mean carriers can offer different service levels over public networks to complement existing private networks.

2. Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN)

These will encourage a wide range of innovative companies to join the big three in offering more choice, more virtualisation and greater flexibility for customers.

3. Convergence of connectivity

We'll start to see greater convergence between 5G, WIFI 6 and, eventually, fixed networks to provide a seamless experience for users.

We’re here to help

If you’re looking at deploying either public or private 5G at your manufacturing site, why not explore the possibilities with us? Our experts will be happy to look at your individual requirements and discuss your options.