How 5G is changing the factory of the future, creating intelligent ERPs

By Marius Wessels

As the world continues to evolve, so does technology. While the 4G network was mainly centered on smartphones, 5G was developed on the promise of driving industrialization to new levels through optimizing factory operations, paving the way for more intelligent enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

The technology has a higher bandwidth, which increases data transfer capacity and low latency, enabling the collaboration between systems and devices in real-time. This, in turn, ensures an adequate flow of operations while significantly minimizing unplanned downtimes that can prove to be costly.

The intelligent factory of the future is rich in innovations that are advancing automation to reduce human errors while maximizing output, reducing risks, improving organizational flexibility and communications, and driving up revenues. The 5G network is offering manufacturers the chance to have a wireless technology to augment and replace the traditional wired industrial network connections, which are faced with numerous shortcomings while forging into the factory of the future.

Although the 5G technology is still in the early stages of rollout since its launch in 2019, it is projected to cover one-third of the global population by 2025, accounting for approximately 1.2 billion connections. It ushers in a new era of flexibility and fluidity in connectivity, enabling applications tailored precisely to suit the user.

Many businesses in manufacturing are already on board with the current cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), and ERP advancements that use 5G  to help their processes run leaner and grow revenue. IoT devices are vital in providing real-time feedback, including shipping and storage conditions, repair and preventative maintenance alerts, and supply chain data. All this data is then stored in the cloud and relayed into ERPs for real-time analysis.

With the advent of 5G, access to high-capacity performance, wireless flexibility, and low latency, support for gathering operational intelligence can only grow. As these networks grow, using machine learning to become more intelligent and leaner, they will produce even more capturable data that provides actionable intelligence for increased productivity. Low latency means that equipment-to-equipment communication can occur faster via wireless connections, enabling better response time to critical operations.

The industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), for instance, a technology used to monitor factory equipment through sensors that relay data for quality assurance, ERP software, performance monitoring, security, and safety, can use 5G connectivity to optimize these tasks in real-time and prevent downtime. Intelligent robotics are being deployed alongside humans or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to enhance safety in materials delivery within different environments.

By leveraging the power of 5G, customized 3D printing is enabling manufacturers to reduce material wastage through improved product designs, therefore creating lighter, better, and greener products. With digital twins’ technology, factories can duplicate existing factory environments into a virtual environment through simulations, helping in testing upgrades to equipment before deployment or matching finished products with the original design for quality control.

The factory of the future has flexibility in its fundamentals, and 5G is offering precisely that. With the ever-changing market demand, the ability to quickly pivot and ride in the wave of change calls for operational capability, whether incorporating new designs into systems or tweaking machines to produce different end products. This is only achieved through operational flexibility, which 5G offers by enabling fast and seamless data exchange in real-time for data-driven insights.

The network is also enhancing communication at the intelligent factory. For instance, the network supports three critical types of communication, that is, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC), which offer instant communication between machines and operators in the wake of increased use of unmanned vehicles at the factory place.

With instant communication, manufacturers have increased visibility of processes, making it easy to implement corrective actions and avoid unplanned disruptions.

Additionally, technology is driving effective communication and connection in mobile working. The workforce is becoming more connected through wireless connectivity, keeping mobile workers informed of their tasks and where they are needed and ensuring smooth operations.

The health and safety at the factory is also improving with the deployment of 5G. For instance, computer vision applications and video cameras are used to monitor and ensure compliance with safety rules. Here, real-time camera feeds are being used to establish areas with potential physical security threats and send alerts, therefore enhancing safety.

With the 5G network, people, processes, and data are more connected, factory efficiency is enhanced, and sustainability through flexibility is encouraged. Technology presents endless possibilities and benefits to the intelligent factory and further advancement of the fourth industrial revolution.

However, while this technology is vastly changing the way of business in the smart factory, it comes with immense requirements, such as upgrades of systems to support the technology, training, and associated costs. Customization is crucial to ensure maximum benefits since each sector reserves different requirements.

(Marius Wessels is the Manager for Professional Services at SYSPRO Africa).


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