No matter how many 5G towers are erroneously burnt down or damaged in the UK over utterly misguided health fears or conspiracies, the technology is going to be at the heart of modern manufacturing — and with emerging technologies come new privacy and security problems.
Historically, manufacturing has been a difficult and expensive environment for the rollout of any kind of network. Often one of the most difficult parts of the process is the laying of network cables. In a factory setting this is not just expensive, but can be disruptive and dangerous as well.
As such, manufacturers prefer to use wireless connectivity whenever possible to lower costs of installation and integration. However, wide-scale adoption of 4G and Wi-Fi may have been slowed due to the fragility of their signals and the electronically noisy environments in which they would be expected to operate.
Rob Russell, CTO of predictive maintenance firm Senseye, told Computer Business Review: “Industrial machines produce a tremendous amount of electronic interference that is highly disruptive to wireless networks. It is hoped that the robustness and resilience of 5G will overcome this challenge, and enable its use as a flexible, lower-cost alternative to the fixed-line networks that most manufacturers continue to rely on today.”
“The new generation of industrial machinery produced today is fitted with sensors as standard and with some form of built-in connectivity. Manufacturers are retrofitting existing assets to provide connectivity, and while many in the industry are doing so for wired networks, the most forward-thinking are making it possible to add SIM cards to their machinery.”
Smart Tech Already In Use
Manufacturers, as a result, are turning to automation and smart device solutions to help increase factory floor efficiency.
Automated systems will require the transfer of incredible amounts of data and as robotic systems move and work in tandem they will need to communicate at high speeds in order to avoid collisions or fatal accidents. This is something 5G is perfectly suited to, thanks to its high bandwidth and low latency.
Workers on the factory floors themselves are starting to process and send large amounts of data using smart devices such as AR glasses. Large warehouse operators like Amazon are looking at equipping all employees with smart glasses to aid in the searching and identifying of products, while aerospace firms Airbus and Boeing are already using Microsoft’s HoloLens to run workers through step-by-step build processes.
Rob Harwood global industry director at software firm Ansys notes that: “By delivering data from products and processes and combining this with simulation, the performance of manufacturing processes and existing product operations can be substantially increased, new product introductions will happen faster and new business channels based on the simulation insights derived from the vast amounts of data will be opened up.”
Private Networks and 5G Splicing
The adoption of 5G by manufacturers could spawn an array of new private networks. The technology has a robust enough bandwidth that one network can be sliced into a multitude of smaller ones, each with there own specific configurations.
Benoit Jouffrey, Thales VP of 5G Expertise told Computer Business Review that when it comes to 5G: “A private network can be deployed in different ways, for example it could be stand-alone, where the complete infrastructure, from radio part to back-end is deployed or you might have a slice based private network, where you attribute one slice of the network to the private network.”
Network slicing lets you split up a main network into different segmentations creating a network that has multiple virtual networks existing atop of the same infrastructure.
For manufacturers and telecom providers the ability to slice 5G networks up will be a crucial function. For providers it represents a way to get extra commercial value out of costly infrastructure deployments. While manufacturers will be able to establish multiple software defined networks each with their own configurations. Network managers will be able to orchestrate the network centrally with a high degree of control over the segmentation.
Jouffrey notes that slicing will introduce a complete change in how we see networks as it changes from: “I have a use case and I have to adapt it to the network, inverting that, I now have a network that is capable of adapting itself to the use case and ready to deploy as an enterprise.”
In some cases manufactures could end up operating their own independent private networks, but these in turn would be supported by a private third party who operates the infrastructure.
What 5G will introduces to industry is choice, and an increased ability to establish software-defined specialised networks. “Ultimately, it all depends on the needs and capabilities of what the business is after,” Jouffrey notes.