Much of the fanfare about 5G has been focused on consumer benefits and there will be many to be sure. However, the new global, wireless standard designed to connect virtually everyone and everything including machines, objects and devices will arguably have an even larger impact in the enterprise market.

While its name signifies the fifth generation of mobile networks, 5G will actually serve as the first mobile/wireless communication network capable of advancing business use cases such as artificial intelligence (AI), self-driving cars, robotics, the industrial internet of things (IoT) and smart cities. It also promises to revolutionize multiple industries, especially manufacturing where transparency and traceability continue to grow in importance.

“Data collection and analysis through IoT devices, coupled with 5G’s lightning fast speeds, will allow for more visibility throughout the production process,” Brenden Rawle, director of interconnection in EMEA, Equinix, says. “Networked sensors enable manufacturers to derive meaningful insights from real-time interactions among machines, systems, assets and things. That’s one reason why by 2025, the IoT market for manufacturing is expected to grow to $575 billion and the number of connected devices in the automation sector is expected to increase by a factor of 50. To work together and deliver better insights, these devices will need to be dynamically integrated with networks, clouds and digital ecosystems via fast, secure, low-latency interconnection. And this is where Equinix plays a critical role.”

Interconnection is essential for 5G manufacturing use cases

5G is going to exponentially increase data and that is something manufacturers will have to address. The Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Volume 3, a market study published by Equinix, predicts the installed private interconnection bandwidth capacity within the manufacturing sector will grow 57 per cent annually between 2018 and 2022 to 1,547 Tbps. To put that in context, the manufacturing sector will comprise 12 per cent of the total estimated global interconnection bandwidth across all industries worldwide by 2022.

“Organizations engaged in high precision engineering are a good example,” Rawle adds. “For instance, a laser system manufacturer in the U.K. is using 5G on their factory floor to deliver a digitized design process that includes video and augmented/virtual reality. 5G is also helping the company collaborate in real-time with supply chain partners and monitor its products in the field.”

Other 5G manufacturing use cases

Rawle points to several other use cases for 5G in the manufacturing sector including predictive maintenance, supply chains and robotics. “Keeping manufacturing assets up and running has the potential to significantly decrease operational expenditures, saving companies millions of dollars,” he explains. “With the use of sensors, cameras and data analytics, companies can determine when a piece of equipment will fail before it does. IoT-enabled systems can sense warning signs, use data to create maintenance timelines and pre-emptively service equipment before problems occur.

“5G technology allows massive volumes of sensor data to be quickly and reliably collected, enabling predictive maintenance algorithms to identify potential problems and respond in milliseconds.

When it comes to supply chains the ability to monitor them in real time can deliver huge benefits. “IoT can simplify inventory management by monitoring the supply chain and offering a clear view of a company’s moving parts,” Rawle continues. “Materials and parts can be tracked from the source to the production line more efficiently, enabling just-in-time inventory and minimizing slowdowns and shortages. Sensors and mobile devices with RFID and GPS can track inventory and send alerts when product stock is running low.

“5G will further connect the supply chain by providing the speed and bandwidth necessary for AI to monitor multiple data sources and protect against disruptions such as natural disasters by automatically re-routing to alternate suppliers when emergencies occur.”

Robotics and automated systems are familiar to anyone who has watched a car roll off a modern assembly line but wired connectivity has limited their full potential. “With 5G, industrial processes can be monitored and controlled with greater precision and less network gear,” Rawle says. “According to Verizon, in a 5G-driven smart factory, thousands of sensors at the floor level can send a continuous stream of data to the cloud. The goal is to help managers better monitor quality, increase speed, respond to supply fluctuations and simplify workflows.

By leveraging private interconnection to distribute core IT infrastructure at the network edge, manufacturers achieve greater proximity to supply chain partners, digital ecosystems, customers and the IoT devices on their factory floors. This allows manufacturers to streamline multi-party data exchange using high-speed, low-latency communications. “Proximate, direct and secure interconnection optimizes and scales collaboration and analysis of data coming from various digital IoT sources for faster operational and customer insights,” Rawle concludes. “As new manufacturing ecosystems develop at the edge, they can more cost-effectively bring products to market and better meet their customers’ needs.”