How will mobile connectivity impact manufacturing?

Industry 4.0 is changing the face of manufacturing. As the world gets ready to switch to 5G technology, wireless connectivity will make it even more promising. Though they may seem insignificant on the surface, mobile networks have potential to revolutionise manufacturing, says Megan Ray Nichols.
How will mobile connectivity impact manufacturing?
The manufacturing industry is on the verge of a technological revolution. The fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, is already well underway, but it's about to reach new heights. Mobile connectivity is taking all the technology of Industry 4.0 and pushing it further.

Cellular networks in and of themselves may not be particularly exciting or revolutionary. Their use in the manufacturing world, however, is relatively new and shows a lot of potential. As the world gets ready to switch to 5G networks, wireless connectivity is even more promising.

They may seem insignificant on the surface, but mobile networks could revolutionise manufacturing. Better connections will take nearly all current manufacturing technology to another level. Here's a closer look at how this will happen.

The advantages of 5G
To grasp the impact new mobile networks could have on manufacturing, you need to understand 5G. 5G, the next generation of cellular networks, represents a considerable step forward in wireless connectivity. More specifically, it improves on today's 4G LTE networks in three main categories: speed, latency and bandwidth.

5G networks could enable download speeds of up to 20 Gbps, 20 times faster than 4G. That's not just faster than today's cellular connections, but rivals even fiber-optic internet speeds. With these networks, anything that relies on the internet will become more efficient than ever.

On top of being fast, 5G also promises lower latency and better bandwidth. Lower latency means fewer delays or disruptions in a connection, and with more bandwidth, networks can support more devices. All these advantages are excellent for daily life, but they mean even more for industrial applications.

Sustaining the IoT in manufacturing
These networks are so promising because they can take the industrial IoT (IIoT) to its fullest potential. The IIoT is already worth more than $77 billion as factories rush to implement these technologies. Without better connections, though, manufacturers can't experience all the IIoT can offer.

Today's networks can support around 2,000 devices in a .38-mile radius, which seems like a lot. When you consider how many connections there are in a factory, and how much they need to process, that figure quickly falls short. By contrast, 5G can support a million devices in the same area, enabling much broader IoT adoption.


With better wireless connectivity, manufacturers can take full advantage of the IoT. They'll be able to use more devices than ever and use them for bandwidth-hungry processes. These increased and improved connections will change manufacturing.

Improved efficiency
When manufacturers can unlock the potential of the IIoT, they can become much more efficient. More devices mean more data points that manufacturers can look at. With these larger, more informative data sets, facilities could discover areas where they're falling short and work to correct them.

These same sensors can enable predictive maintenance, alerting workers when a machine needs a tuneup. This practice helps avoid costly breakdowns and keeps equipment running at peak performance for longer. On average, this approach to maintenance gives facilities 10 to 15 more days of machine availability a year.

Since 5G is faster and can support more devices, it enables better communication between connected machines. This vast interconnectivity turns factories into a cohesive unit, which helps speed things up and reduce disruptions. Robotic systems could communicate any changes or defects almost instantly, avoiding any downtime.

Carmaker Audi found that Wi-Fi failed to enable real-time data transfer in its robots. In response, it tested 5G and now plans to deploy it across its facilities within the next two years. With faster data transfer, robots can work more efficiently, saving time and money.

Increased safety
Mobile connectivity's benefits aren't all about money, either. The advantages of the 5G-enabled IIoT will help factories increase their safety, too. Since the manufacturing industry experiences more than 300 fatal work injuries a year, any safety improvements are a welcome change.


With an IoT sensor in every bit of machinery, manufacturers could better monitor their equipment's safety. If there's an issue with a piece of machinery, they'll know and can address it before it endangers anyone. Dangerous equipment malfunctions could become a thing of the past.

One of the most promising applications for the IoT in safety is wearable tech. Improved networks could support more wearables like connected helmets or smart wristbands. These devices can capture biometric data like temperature and respiration, and alert workers when they need to take a break.

Many factories today use automated guided vehicles (AGV) to move parts or products around the facility. For these self-driving cars to navigate safely, they need fast, reliable communication with the infrastructure around them. 5G networks, with their lower latency and improved bandwidth, provide just that, helping AGVs avoid collisions.

Potential roadbumps in mobile connectivity adoption
Despite these advantages, it may take a while for manufacturers to experience Industry 4.0 at its fullest. 5G technology isn't readily available everywhere yet, and won't be for another few years. Even when it does arrive, manufacturers will have to work around some shortcomings.

Poor cell signal is already a prevalent problem in factories, thanks to all the steel and concrete. Since 5G requires more antennas in an area to provide service, reception could be an even more pressing concern. Manufacturers will have to implement signal boosters to take advantage of 5G networks.

At first, 5G infrastructure will likely be expensive, which could hinder its adoption. Expense is an issue in any new technology, and even something as revolutionary as 5G isn't immune. As a result, even when these technologies are available everywhere, they may not be accessible for a while.

Wireless connectivity will revolutionize manufacturing
Industry 4.0 is changing the face of manufacturing, and 5G will take it even further. Though this shift may not happen immediately, it will have far-reaching effects. When they become more accessible, these mobile connections will make manufacturing a safer, more efficient industry.

Wi-Fi enabled revolutionary technologies like the IoT and cellular connections are improving. The advent of 5G networks will push cellular technology forward, making it all the more advantageous. The age of 5G is coming, and it will transform manufacturing.

About the author:
Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) writer and regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights & IoT Evolution. She can be reached on megan@schooledbyscience.com

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