Industrial 5G gets real: New use cases in manufacturing and logistics

Industrial 5G gets real: New use cases in manufacturing and logistics

Phil Young, director for policy, research and strategic engagement at Digital Catapult, looks at how multiple new use cases are proving the real benefits and value of industrial 5G.

5G is the first mobile technology designed to support the digital transformation needed to deliver Industry 4.0. However, in 2019, manufacturers told us that it was difficult to visualize the benefits that 5G would deliver, although many recognized how advanced digital technologies could support industry productivity. What they needed were real examples, results and measures, and a clear picture of what would be needed for 5G innovation.

New use cases provide clearer understanding

In 2020, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched the Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials (IG5TT) programme, coordinated by Digital Catapult. It is one of the UK’s key programs for experimentation and learning from early deployment of 5G within manufacturing and logistics, involving industry, telecommunications experts, business groups and the academic sector.

Eight I5GTT projects (5G ENCODE; 5GEM-UK; 5G Factory of the Future; 5G CAL; AMC2; Smart Junctions 5G; 5G Ports; and 5G Logistics) identified the real benefits, challenges and considerations related to 5G adoption by a wide range of use cases in manufacturing, transport and logistics, including:

  • Using augmented reality (AR) and/or virtual reality (VR) devices (such as headsets) to support design, manufacturing and training, and to provide access to on-site support from remote experts
  • Monitoring and tracking of time-sensitive assets
  • Providing real-time process monitoring and analysis, plus closed-loop control to reduce waste
  • Switching from autonomous vehicles to remote manual operation in emergency situations
  • Asset tracking and tracing to improve scheduling and performance
  • Using artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce traffic congestion and pollution while improving flow

Why not stick with 4G or WiFi?

While there are situations where 4G can be used (such as tracking containers and pallets), it simply does not deliver the quick response and speed of data transfer that industry requires. And because WiFi is limited by regulatory conditions, it will be difficult and more expensive to cover a comparable area at the same quality of service as 5G, even considering additional 5G costs.

For example, as well as safely tracking goods and equipment as cranes and containers move through ports, 5G could also enable traffic management at smart junctions around the port and support automated drone flights for port police operations. It also enables the adoption of technology that requires significantly higher throughput, such as predictive maintenance systems, without the need for a physical network.

In some trials, WiFi may have met some of the requirements, but it lacks the security and reliability benefits of 5G, especially when it comes to supporting the use of mobile devices such as VR headsets.

A private 5G network also provides essential additional security for manufacturers who are careful with their data and want to process it locally. Most projects reported implementing all 5G security measures, and some provided enhanced levels of security for industrial devices, such as certification for non-5G elements that can be validated when the device is registered on the network.

Phil Young, director for policy, research and strategic engagement at Digital Catapult

Phil Young is director for policy, research and strategic engagement at Digital Catapult

There is still a way to go, but we are making great progress

I5GTT project partners, industry vendors and DCMS were able to make rapid progress in addressing some of the identified challenges, and in seizing relevant opportunities through shared learning.

“We have gained practical technical knowledge on how to make Industry 4.0 use cases work within 5G-powered wireless digital infrastructure,” said Jessica Rushworth, Digital Catapult’s chief strategy and policy officer. “This led to a deeper understanding of the potential business value of different technologies. Most importantly, it gave us valuable insight into the challenges of adoption within the industry.”

Even as the understanding of the benefits of 5G increases, there are still challenges to be met. Until recently, 5G specifications, standards and system integration guides and expertise were mainly focused on the consumer domain. Availability of 5G compatible industrial products is limited. And there is still a lack of 5G expertise in the industry.

To fully realize the value of 5G, collaboration between the telecommunications industry and other industry sectors will be essential. A closer working relationship will deepen and broaden the exploration of what is possible, as organizations learn together how existing 5G and new systems can be integrated and deployed in real-world environments, and how new business models will evolve over the coming months and years.

“The next phase, as the technology matures and some of the technological barriers are overcome, is to better understand what the blueprint for a 5G-enabled advanced digital infrastructure for industrial enterprises will be, and to create the supply chain that can meet its requirements. ” added Dritan Kaleshi, Digital Catapult’s director of 5G technology.

Maintaining momentum and actively developing testbeds will help create demand for Industrial 5G so we can consolidate the UK’s status as a growing leader in the 5G innovation space and accelerate the transformation to Industry 4.0.

Key Takeaways:

  • Real benefits of 5G are starting to be realized
  • 5G offers speed, reliability and security advantages over 4G and WiFi
  • Much of 5G is still very much consumer-focused
  • Collaboration between telecoms and industry will be key

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