5G with an Edge: How factories of the future are staying ahead of the competition

5G with an Edge: How factories of the future are staying ahead of the competition
5G with an Edge: How factories of the future are staying ahead of the competition
In today’s economy, manufacturers face more unpredictability than ever. Uncertainty caused by changing tariffs and international trade agreements and a rapidly evolving global health crisis make it difficult to shore up supply chains and make long-term production plans. Add to that shifting consumer tastes and the rise of direct-to-consumer manufacturing; changes in demand are leaving manufacturers vulnerable. To stay ahead of the competition, they now must consider retiring dated and inefficient centralized architectures, and find ways to operate with real-time speed.

The Answer: 5G and Edge Computing

Combining 5G and edge computing can give manufacturers more from their technology—simply put, better factories and better products. Edge computing’s decentralized architecture brings technology resources closer to where data is generated, decreasing lags in response time and reducing costs. When combined with 5G’s massive bandwidth, super-fast speeds and significantly lower latency, edge computing has the potential to allow manufacturers to unlock the full capabilities of technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT, automation and additive manufacturing. The result is a real-time enterprise that is poised to be more efficient, productive and competitive than its non-5G and edge computing peers.

Real-Time, Data-Driven Decision Making

IoT and edge sensors should become pervasive in a 5G and edge computing-enabled manufacturing environment. With 5G and edge computing, hundreds of thousands of IoT devices in high-density environments could be connected at high-speed, and manufacturers could analyze data from these devices in real time, providing the key to truly connected, smart facilities and factories. Those real-time updates on machine performance and from the supply chain should enable manufacturers to make more informed, data-driven decisions about their businesses:  the possibilities are virtually limitless.


Better Quality Control

In addition to providing valuable insight for production decisions, IoT technology should also help manufacturers improve quality and monitoring of products and facilities. For example, sensors that monitor temperature and humidity levels in real-time can allow for better management of the environment in factories, warehouses and the supply chain. 5G and edge computing could also enable cognitive video, which leverages artificial intelligence to monitor products for imperfections. Thus, manufacturers could catch defective products before shipping them out from the factory, improving quality control, resulting in a better end product for customers, and avoiding costs associated with shipping and returning defective products. 


Advanced Technology, Safer Factories

5G and edge computing could mean safer facilities and better working environments. These technologies can enable advanced training solutions that use virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR), which have been found to improve learning and information retention. A study by the University of Maryland found that median recall accuracy rates of trainees trained with VR headsets is 90 percent—compared to 78 percent accuracy from trainees who used desktop computers. Manufacturers could use AR and VR technology to better train employees for jobs that require specialized skills and to create more effective safety training.
Additionally, patterns at the employee level could be detected to avoid safety hazards. Just as 5G-enabled cognitive video could be used to detect potential defects in products, it could look for anomalies and potential hazards on production floors, such as distracted or tired employees operating machinery.


Ushering in Automation 

Automation has long been touted as the next revolution in manufacturing, but technology limitations have held it back. Now with 5G’s super-fast speeds and low latency, manufacturers may finally be able to reap the full benefits. For example, automated vehicles on a factory floor will – in most cases – need to be equipped with edge computing capabilities for video and navigation functions to work on a dynamic factory floor. Edge computing should allow real-time video and navigation to safely guide the vehicles around humans (whose behaviors and movements can be unpredictable!) and execute the task at hand. With more efficient autonomous technology, manufacturers should be able to invest more heavily in automation for repetitive, hazardous or labor-intensive tasks. This should relieve employees from potentially dangerous jobs and free them up to focus on more complex tasks that require a human operator.

5G in Action

Corning is just one company already exploring the potential of 5G and edge computing. The company has installed Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network at its fiber optic cable manufacturing facility in Hickory, NC – one of the largest of its kind in the world – and is now exploring how 5G can enhance factory automation and quality assurance. 5G has the potential to dramatically speed data collection, which would allow machines to communicate with each other in near real-time, and to enable 5G-connected cameras to wirelessly track and inspect inventory. The end goal? Faster manufacturing, less waste, faster speed to market.
Manufacturers can imagine ways to leverage the power of 5G and edge computing to reach competitive advantage. By using these technologies, they could make more informed business decisions, increase productivity, maintain better quality control, and improve safety. As the full benefits of 5G and edge computing become apparent, manufacturers should find even more ways to improve their use of technology and create efficiencies that put them ahead of the competition.

About The Author

Jim Kilmer is Group Vice President of Manufacturing, Automotive, Energy and Utility at Verizon

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