Unlocking industry 4.0 in the age of IoT and 5G.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to impact virtually every industry but none more so than manufacturing. In fact, IoT—with its potential to transform traditional linear systems into dynamic, interconnected ones—may be the biggest driver of change in factories and other facilities and unlocking Industry 4.0.

As in other sectors, IoT and industrial IoT (IIoT) related to manufacturing are made possible by wireless connectivity and the technologies that support it. Today, IoT relies on low power and long range, which the Narrowband (NB) standard addresses. NB connections can support a variety of IoT use cases, including event detectors, smart trash bins, and smart metering. Industrial applications include asset and logistics tracking, as well as machine monitoring, and more.

But as nationwide 5G connectivity continues to develop, an entirely new level of speed, efficiency, and performance will help create new IoT use cases.

5G will be necessary for higher data rate transmissions and ultra-low latency needs. In fact, a 2020 report from Bloor Research indicates that the future of 5G, edge computing and IoT combined, are key enablers for Industry 4.0.

According to a report from Markets and Markets for example, the IIoT market is expected to grow by 42.7% over the 5-year period ending in 2024. Among the major factors driving the IIoT market are more advanced semiconductor and electronic devices, and an increase in cloud computing platforms—both of which the 5G era is expected to drive.

The Bloor Research report also noted that without 5G there will be significant network gaps to enabling Industry 4.0—not only in providing connectivity for billions of IoT Industry 4.0 devices, but also in transferring and processing the enormous amount of data that will be generated.

The challenge isn't simply about bandwidth, though. Different IoT systems will have different network requirements. Some devices will demand extremely high reliability where low latency will be critical, while other use cases will see networks that will be forced to cope with a much higher density of connected devices than we’ve ever seen.

For example, at a production plant, someday simple sensors might collect and store data and communicate to a gateway device that contains application logic. In other situations, IoT sensor data might need to be collected in real-time from a variety of sensors, RFID tags, tracking devices, and mobile devices across a wider area via 5G protocols.

Bottom line: 5G in manufacturing has the power to help unlock a variety of IoT and IIoT use cases and benefits for Industry 4.0. Looking ahead, it wouldn't be surprising to see these five use cases transform with strong, reliable connectivity from multi-spectrum 5G networks that are currently being built and the introduction of compatible devices.

Insight into production assets.

With IoT/IIoT, manufacturers could connect production equipment and other machines, tools, and assets in factories and warehouses, giving managers and engineers greater visibility into production operations and unprecedented insights into any issues that might arise.

One of the key capabilities of IoT is asset tracking, or the ability to easily locate and monitor key components of a production facility. In the (near) future, companies will be able to automatically track parts as they move through the assembly process using smart sensors. Plant managers will also gain a real-time view of production output by connecting tools used by operators with any machines used in production.

Through Industry 4.0 manufacturing with the use of IoT-generated data, manufacturers will have the power to leverage these greater levels of visibility within plants to quickly identify and resolve bottlenecks through the use of dashboards, which will help to lead to faster, higher quality production.

Improving predictive maintenance.

A malfunction can lead to significant production delays, which can result in heavy losses for unexpected equipment repair or replacement as well as unhappy customers due to delayed or canceled orders, so it's critical for manufacturers to ensure that factory equipment and other assets are in good working order. Which means that keeping machines running can result in significant reductions in operating expenses and smoother production processes.

By deploying wireless sensors on machines throughout a factory, then connecting those sensors to the Internet, managers would be able to detect when a specific piece of equipment was beginning to malfunction well before it actually did.

Emerging and integrated IoT systems supported by wireless technology could sense warning signs in equipment and send information to maintenance staff so they could proactively repair equipment—thus avoiding significant delays and costs. In addition, manufacturers could realize benefits, like potentially safer plant environments and a longer lifespan for their equipment.

Raising the bar for product quality.

Imagine how the continuous monitoring of products through the building cycle, made possible by having environmental sensors send back data about conditions critical for high quality, could help manufacturers improve the quality goods they produce.

Sensors could be used to alert shop supervisors whenever quality thresholds are reached or when conditions such as air temperature or humidity are not optimal for production of specific items, like foods or pharmaceuticals.

Supply chain management and optimization.

Manufacturers' supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, especially when organizations expand operations globally. Emerging IoT technology allows companies to monitor events across their supply chains, delivering access to real-time data through asset tracking, which can include trucks, shipping containers, and even individual products.

Manufacturers could use sensors to track and monitor inventories as they move from location to location throughout the chain. That includes shipments of supplies use in to making products, and the delivery of finished goods. Manufacturers could also gain increased visibility into product inventories to provide more accurate schedules for the availability of materials and the shipment of products to customers. Meanwhile, analysis of the data could also help companies make improvements in logistics by allowing them to pinpoint problem areas.

Creating digital twins.

Emerging IoT allows manufacturers to create digital twins—virtual replicas of physical devices or products that manufacturers can use to run simulations before actually building and deploying the devices. Because of the continuous streams of real-time data provided by IoT, manufacturers can create a digital twin of virtually any type of product, which will allow them to detect flaws sooner and more accurately predict outcomes.

That could lead to higher-quality products – and reduce costs associated with recalling products after they've been shipped. In addition, data collected from the digital replicas could allow managers to analyze how well systems work under various conditions in the field.

With a range of potential applications, each of these five prospective use cases has the power to revolutionize much of the manufacturing sector. In order to realize potential of Industry 4.0, technology leaders within manufacturing will need to understand the key challenges presented by IoT will present and learn how the future of 5G can address them.

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