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Supply Chain News: MAPI on the Potential of 5G in Manufacturing


Despite the Hype and Many Barriers, Digitization will Drive 5G Adoption

March 24, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff

There remains much buzz – and hype – about the potential of high speed wireless communications in the supply chain

A new research report from the researchers at MAPI, the Manufacturing Alliance looks at the potential for 5G in industrial applications, and acknowledges that "for many manufacturers, the path to 5G isn't very clear at the moment."

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Digitalization will define the factory of the future. More sensors, more automation, more visuals, more data. Lots more data.

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MAPI does see excellent long run potential with 5G in manufacturing, noting that eventually 5G will reshape how most manufacturing companies connect equipment, sensors, processes, and products, as well as communicate with employees.”

That's because 5G is Up to 100x faster than 4G, resulting lower latency, greater reliability, increased security, edge computing capabilities, and greater agility.
The report says that 5G can support new technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics digital twins, and massive Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. It will also power smart factory initiatives,

The report nicely summarizes eight key findings from the research, as published below:

You're not behind the curve:
Few U.S. companies have deployed 5G. Limited general deployment of public 5G networks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and important 5G standards and supporting technologies for manufacturing applications (such as time-sensitive networking) that are not commercially available, have constrained corporate investments in 5G industrial deployments.

Connectivity is the next big thing, but not necessarily 5G: Although 5G will be a key part of connectivity for both people and businesses, it is smart connectivity itself where manufacturers should be focusing efforts, whether it is through 5G, WiFi 6, 4G LTE, wired ethernet, or something else. What matters is generating actionable information from a web of connected things—people, systems, sensors, partners, or anything else.

There are viable alternatives: Private 4G LTE deployments remain a viable alternative for 5G at a basic wireless connectivity level. Some companies are building in optionality with existing 4G LTE solutions that can be upgraded in the future to 5G. Sixty percent of MAPI executives surveyed also see a next generation of WiFi solutions, including future iterations such as WiFi 6, as other alternatives to deliver faster speeds and better performance in the next few years.

The use cases that drive 5G deployments vary: Any use case that requires mobility, such as communication with drones, mobile robots, or autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) is a prime candidate for 5G consideration. Other leading use cases include asset tracking, augmented reality, condition-based monitoring, and product and services enablement. Applications involving extensive data and sensors, and situations where workers need to be connected including in warehousing, are also compelling cases.

(Article Continued Below)



The complexity of 5G implementations vary: 5G capabilities are much broader than earlier cellular technologies that simply enabled voice or basic data communications. For some, 5G may only end up being the cellular network their personal cell phones run on. For others, it will replace hardwired connections or WiFi networks. For others still, it will be an opportunity to enable IoT, smart factories, and Industry 4.0 with thousands of sensors that monitor equipment, processes, and more, communicating through edge devices to cloud-based services for analysis or connectivity to partners.


Top Barriers to Adoption of 5G in Manufacturing




Private 5G deployments will initially outpace public ones: The major US wireless companies are deploying 5G networks based on different types of 5G spectrum. Areas of coverage, bandwidth, and speed will all likely vary significantly, even within extremely limited geographic areas. The upshot is that initial 5G industry deployments will likely be based more on private 5G networks than on public 5G networks. (Just as companies started investing in private branch exchanges [PBXs] for telephony in the 1970s instead of relying on public telephone networks, initial 5G manufacturing deployments will most likely rely on private 5G deployments.)

5G is evolving: With future releases every 1-2 years, there are plenty of new 5G standards and technologies that will continue to be rolled out over time. For manufacturing organizations, the next two-to-five years will be critical as 5G Release 16 technology becomes available (estimated for mid-2021), with its support for industrial capabilities. Forty-four percent of the respondents to MAPI's survey also noted that within three years they expect they will have at least one 5G application deployed, while another 28% said they would be piloting or testing.

5G will be an accelerant for smart factory initiatives (and vice versa): Digitalization will define the factory of the future. More sensors, more automation, more visuals, more data. Lots more data. As companies start or continue on their digital manufacturing journeys, 5G will (eventually) be a key enabler for the movement of all the data that enables smart factories and Industry 4.0 initiatives, from production planning to predictive maintenance to AGVs.'

"5G offers the next level of enablement for companies to reimagine their industrial data communications infrastructure and the future of more wireless factories and of connected products," the excellent report concludes, noting that "Yet here is a significant set of costs to implementation: partner and internal resourcing, technology, re-engineering of processes and products, and maintenance as standards evolve quickly."

The full report is available from MAPI here: Next-Generation Connectivity: 5G's Role in Advancing Manufacturing

What are your thoughts on 5G in manufacturing? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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