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How Will 5G Improve Industry 4.0?

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iStock/Michael Stifter

5G, the next generation of telecommunications network technology, has several features designed to make key Industry 4.0 technologies, like sensors and other internet-connected industrial devices, more practical.

Over the next few years, as 5G becomes widely available, the technology is likely to significantly impact how manufacturers, warehouses and other industrial sites implement Industry 4.0 technology.

How 5G Is Different From 4G

5G provides a few advantages over 4G that will likely make it extremely useful to adopters of Industry 4.0 tech.

For starters, it’s much faster than 4G, offers better latency and will feature more antennas and base towers. The next generation of network technology also includes a few advances that will help people and businesses stay connected as the number of internet-linked devices continues to rise.

For example, 5G includes massive MIMO (multiple input/multiple output), a configuration of cell tower antennas. This ensures a large number of devices can connect at the same time.

This technology will reduce the latency that IoT sensors and other devices have to manage while also providing them with a more reliable internet connection.

5G May Make Smart Manufacturing Technology More Practical

Improved speeds will also make real-time uses of IoT — like equipment monitoring, remote access and autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) — much more practical. 5G is 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, enabling close to real-time data processing over wireless connections.

High latency over wireless connections has been a barrier to real-time data processing in the past. This can be a barrier to some industrial applications of smart technology.

Consider AMR — most famously used by Amazon in the company’s warehouses. These self-piloting robots are capable of a wide range of tasks, including picking and receiving inventory, sorting and moving parts around a facility.

Without a strong internet connection, however, they may be much less effective. AMRs and other cutting-edge industrial robots often rely on AI-powered machine vision, which allows them to “see” their surroundings and navigate a facility’s floor. Machine vision needs a significant amount of processing power, which hardware may not be able to provide.

As a result, many robots offload some or all of their machine vision work to the cloud. Because they’re making navigation decisions in real-time, it works best if there’s a reliable internet connection that allows communication with the cloud.

The same can be said for other applications of internet-connected industrial technology, like IoT equipment monitors. These sensors, often used as part of a predictive maintenance strategy, work best when they can communicate quickly with the cloud and site management systems. This allows them to alert supervisors to potential issues, like damaged parts or imminent machine failure.

5G Provides a Valuable Complement to Wi-Fi and Wired Connections

Typically, if a site owner wants to integrate IoT or AMR technology, a cellular network like 4G won’t be enough. Instead, they’ll take advantage of other solutions like Wi-Fi, often with beamforming that can focus a signal and provide a faster and more reliable connection.

Wired internet connections are also a possibility, but these can limit the flexibility of IoT sensors.

5G provides one possible complement to these two options. While 5G may not be practical or the fastest option for an entire factory or site, it can be used in combination with wired connections and Wi-Fi to help provide better signal coverage — ensuring that all smart devices have a reliable and speedy connection to the cloud.

5G Will Help Accelerate Industry’s Digital Transformation

The rollout of 5G is likely to have a major impact on Industry 4.0. The availability of cell towers built to provide high-speed internet connections to many devices simultaneously will help make IoT and smart manufacturing technology more practical.

Over time, this could help site managers adopt new tech — like an IoT-backed predictive maintenance strategy or inventory-moving autonomous robotics — which will drive future growth.

Emily Newton is editor in chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring new innovations in the industrial sector.

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