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Take 5: 5G in manufacturing

Part of the Take 5 on 5G article series

Ben Dollar and Rob Kasegrande, leaders from Deloitte’s 5G and Edge Computing practice, share their perspectives on five key questions around 5G in manufacturing and discuss how 5G will transform the manufacturing industry.

1. Let’s start at the top. How will 5G transform the manufacturing industry?

Rob Kasegrande: 5G, together with edge computing, will provide the digital infrastructure platform for manufacturers to realize new ways of operating. Compared with previous technologies, 5G and edge enable the connection of so many more devices—whether that’s sensors, cameras, or machines—while maintaining the same level of network performance. These advancements will provide manufacturers the ability to consume, analyze, and act on massive amounts of data in real time. The future of manufacturing will involve humans working with machines, automation, robotics, and all the data working in concert. 5G and edge computing serve as the foundational platform to achieve that future state.

Ben Dollar: What’s critical is that 5G and edge computing will unlock improvements from technology at scale. The whole concept of smart manufacturing is that you are connecting data and assets for actionable insights. As smart manufacturing begins to be executed at scale, the number of devices and the amount of data available will dramatically increase. Organizations will be able to connect technology in numbers and at a scale that we haven’t seen before. Fundamentally, that’s how 5G will transform the manufacturing industry. And this goes beyond the four walls of the factory—it’s relevant to the entire digital thread, from engineering and product development to customers and supply chain.

2. What are the use cases for 5G in manufacturing?

Ben Dollar: 5G and manufacturing use cases are infinite, but the unifying thread is connectivity between digital and physical. To understand which use cases are being deployed the most at our clients, Deloitte did research with the Manufacturer’s Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) and surveyed more than 600 manufacturing companies. Those use cases include factory asset intelligence and performance management, quality sensing and detection, factory synchronization and dynamic scheduling, augmented workforce efficiency, smart warehousing, smart conveyance, engineering collaboration and digital twins, and plant consumption and energy management. These eight use cases will look different depending on the context and subsector in which they are instantiated, but they have the potential to generate outstanding value for manufacturers, particularly when deployed at scale. It’s important to note that these eight are not comprehensive, and we expect the use cases to grow, particularly beyond the factory itself.

Rob Kasegrande: To deep dive on one specific 5G and manufacturing use case example, we built a solution for quality sensing using cameras sitting on the edge that are analyzing parts coming off a production line in real time. We paired the cameras with a computer vision system to identify errors and automatically remove the defective parts off the line. This is all made possible by a 5G infrastructure platform that integrated the devices, AI, and edge computing to produce real-time analytics and real-time actions. What’s exciting is that the infrastructure used in solutions like these can be easily scaled to deliver on the use cases Ben talked about, and then some. It’s important to note a solution like this requires many different pieces of technology. We are building a 5G ecosystem and collaborated with several of the organizations on this solution. To enable these use cases, a 5G and edge ecosystem is not a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity.

3. Who should be thinking about 5G in manufacturing?

Rob Kasegrande: Whether a manufacturer is big or small, discrete or process, whether they produce fighter jets or silicon wafers, there are 5G manufacturing use cases or applications for everybody. The critical question is around what to do with it, and the focus should be on the business outcome and value generation. The use cases will look different depending on the manufacturing subsector, but there isn’t a manufacturer that 5G and edge computing isn’t relevant to.

Ben Dollar: Within an organization, this needs to be a multidisciplinary and collaborative effort and include leaders from information technology, operations, engineering, factory leadership, and beyond—the specifics will depend on the organization, but it needs to be multidisciplinary. Regardless of how the company is organized, you really need the right combination of technology, manufacturing, and facilities teams involved to be successful. At the end of the day, the solution has to generate value in the physical facility.

4. What challenges might manufacturers face along their 5G journey?

Ben Dollar: One of the challenges related to 5G in manufacturing is governance. Manufacturers often have many facilities, each of which may have a high degree of autonomy. Securing buy-in for an approach that can be deployed at scale can be difficult and needs to be tackled early. Another challenge we see is scalability. A pilot may be implemented on one asset or production line successfully, but pilots need to be designed to scale. Lastly, we often see organizations implementing technology without connecting it clearly enough to a business outcome. Business value should be the starting point. Once it’s demonstrated that a new capability produces value, the uptake will be fast; otherwise, it will be very hard to sell internally.

Rob Kasegrande: With any new technology, there’s always some initial resistance in terms of what this will mean for the organization and how it will change operations. In reality, the challenges and barriers are more internal than external. While public 5G is still being built out domestically and globally, private 5G networks are ready today. A contained space like a manufacturing plant is well-suited to get started with upgrading infrastructure and eliminating the need for hardwiring machinery or devices. The challenge manufacturers are likely to face are less around 5G and edge technical issues and more around organizational buy-in to move beyond dipping a toe in water and jumping all in to really drive transformation.

5. How should manufacturers get started with 5G?

Rob Kasegrande: While the technology is still early stage, the speed at which the technology will affect the industry will make it difficult for latecomers to catch up. The important thing is to start now. Manufacturers should first understand what 5G and edge computing are at the core and the transformative capabilities they bring. The next step is building out the future vision of the organization and how 5G and edge computing can enable or accelerate that. Once a strategy is determined, manufacturers should move quickly to start to deploy 5G and edge infrastructure and enable initial use cases. The technology is scalable, so a pilot to test functionality and viability is a great starting point. This can be used as a springboard to push new capabilities across the organization.

Ben Dollar: I agree with Rob. Start with pilots to rapidly learn, scale, and secure buy-in. If you look across the 5G in manufacturing use cases we talked about, the technology can help your organization use data to illuminate insights into your factory that you hadn’t seen before. Focusing on solving a specific problem for a specific use case that’s going to generate value and then building out a path to scale are key. Ultimately, the benefits of 5G in the manufacturing industry are enormous and can serve as a major driver of value across nearly all manufacturing organizations.

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