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5G for industrial internet of things: Opportunities and challenges


The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is gaining traction as manufacturers adopt a more connected and intelligent approach to production. The IIoT involves the use of sensors, devices, and monitors to collect and analyse data in real-time, providing manufacturers with insights into their operations and enabling them to optimise their processes. However, to fully realise the potential of the IIoT, manufacturers require a reliable, secure, and high-speed communication network that can handle the vast amounts of data generated by these sensors and devices. This is where private 5G comes into play, says Sachin Mathur, EMEA region director, software and control business segment at Rockwell Automation.

Private 5G is an emerging technology that provides a dedicated cellular network for a specific organisation, allowing them to take advantage of the benefits of 5G without relying on public networks. By deploying a private 5G network, manufacturers can enjoy low latency, high reliability, and high bandwidth connectivity, enabling them to connect and control many devices in real-time. This allows for safer, more efficient operations, as well as better decision-making and optimisation of processes.

The potential of 5G in the IIoT space is currently in a similar place to where the Cloud was 10 years ago. Just as the Cloud revolutionised the way businesses store and access data, 5G is poised to transform the way manufacturers operate. However, implementing private 5G networks is not without its challenges. It requires significant investment in infrastructure and network equipment. It also requires skilled personnel to manage and maintain the network, as well as to develop applications that can take advantage of the network’s capabilities.

In this blog, we explore the opportunities and challenges that 5G presents to manufacturers, offering a better understanding of the potential of private 5G networks in the IIoT space and the steps needed to take advantage of this emerging technology.

The advantages of 5G for industrial manufacturing

The combination of 5G and IIoT presents a range of opportunities for manufacturers that extend across all sectors, regions, and industries. There are many ways in which 5G offers value to manufacturers, including:

  1. Reduced downtime: 5G networks provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity, enabling manufacturers to monitor their machinery and equipment in real-time. This means that potential issues can be identified and resolved before they become serious, reducing downtime and improving overall productivity.
  1. Increased efficiencies: With real-time data and insights, manufacturers can optimise their processes and identify opportunities for improvement. By reducing waste, streamlining processes, and improving communication, manufacturers can increase their efficiency and reduce costs.
  1. Improved operational sustainability: By optimising their processes, manufacturers can reduce energy consumption and emissions, improving their sustainability credentials and reducing their impact on the environment. As more manufacturers seek to align their operations with common targets and mandates, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, gaining greater control over machine outputs through 5G-enabled data reporting is a valuable asset.

Although the opportunities offered by 5G are significant, realising these benefits requires a shift in mindset and culture, as well as an investment in infrastructure and personnel. For manufacturers who may be hesitant to embrace this change or are waiting for proof of execution, it is crucial to get started on the journey early to avoid falling behind competitors who are already utilising 5G technology.

Overcoming challenges to unlock benefits of 5G in manufacturing

One of the primary concerns when implementing any new technology in a manufacturing facility is the safety of workers and machines. However, once implemented, 5G and the IIoT can actually improve safety and create safer working environments.

Here are some of the ways that underpinning IIoT devices and sensors with 5G connectivity can improve safety:

  1. Real-time monitoring: With real-time data and insights, 5G networks enable manufacturers to monitor their operations in real-time, providing insights into potential safety hazards and enabling quick responses in the event of an accident. This reduces the risk of accidents and improves the overall safety of the facility.
  1. Preventative measures: By connecting frontline workers, operators can have location visibility over their position, preventing them from being put into dangerous situations and preventing them from interacting with machinery they are not trained to use. This is beneficial for the worker and also for the machine, which is less likely to be damaged due to untrained personnel using it.
  1. Rapid response: In the event of an accident, 5G connectivity means that people can be evacuated safely and quickly, missing individuals can be located quickly, and targeted rescue attempts can be made.
  1. More detailed insights: 5G sensors and devices provide a more detailed, complete picture of end-to-end operations. This means that manufacturers can identify potential safety hazards before they become serious and take preventative measures to reduce the risk of accidents.

While there may be challenges in implementing 5G and IIoT technologies, such as infrastructure requirements and the need for upskilling to embed these applications into processes, manufacturers must understand that the benefits of these technologies far outweigh the challenges. By embracing 5G and IIoT, manufacturers can create a safer, more efficient, and more competitive manufacturing operation.

The future is 5G

Sachin Mathur

The combination of 5G and the IIoT presents a significant opportunity for manufacturers to build a more connected enterprise. However, this requires manufacturers to address the implementation challenges in a timely manner and leverage the opportunities to stay ahead of their competitors.

The potential of 5G is vast and cannot be ignored. By adopting 5G, manufacturers can collect and analyse real-time data to gain insights into their operations, enabling them to optimise their production processes and increase their bottom line. The future is 5G, and those who embrace its capabilities will reap the rewards of a new era of innovation and progress in the manufacturing industry.

The author is Sachin Mathur, EMEA region director, software and control business segment at Rockwell Automation.

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