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The manufacturing sector regularly addresses disruptions and setbacks, frequently using emerging technologies to do so. 5G networks in manufacturing are one of these technologies. 5G is only an emerging technology in the sense that it is not ubiquitous yet, but expect that to change rapidly — 5G is here to stay.

Ernst & Young published the results of a business community survey about 5G in early 2022. This is what they found:

  • Some 56% of respondents plan to invest in 5G technology in the next three years, but confidence is mixed on how successful their implementation will be.
  • Of survey participants, 85% indicated recent global health crises are major driving factors in the decision to purchase 5G equipment and services. An additional 71% cite environmental and sustainability concerns.
  • Survey respondents are leaning away from “traditional” wireless models and mobile service providers. An impressive 77% have identified private 5G networks in manufacturing as the best tool for resilience and growth.

Private 5G networks provide cellular data services through personalized wireless spectrum access. This access is extended to a specific business location, geographical operational area or entire enterprise.

What do private 5G networks in manufacturing offer over conventional wireless service models?

1. Eliminates Uncoordinated Network Standards

The landscape of today’s Wi-Fi and 5G network solutions is fragmented, making real agility and smooth growth difficult to sustain. One of the challenges this presents is overlapping, uncoordinated and frequently proprietary wireless standards.

In mission-critical manufacturing settings, there’s no substitute for the unified, streamlined and easily scalable simplicity provided by private 5G networks. The chance to invest in a homogenous technology environment managed by a single provider also simplifies billing and potentially reduces ongoing costs related to connectivity.

The faster, simpler network infrastructure and more coordinated data delivery systems provided by private 5G are also crucial for manufacturers eyeing investments in machine learning and edge computing. Moreover, eliminating the need for cables on the factory floor means robots, pallet trucks and other connected machines can have greater mobility and more chances to add value to the enterprise.

2. Provides Essential Redundancy

Redundancy is a chief benefit for manufacturers when it comes to licensing private portions of the wireless spectrum. Private 5G manufacturing networks are cohesive ecosystems from beginning to end, which means they’re not reliant on national mobile network operator (MNO) infrastructure.

Making private 5G networks in manufacturing the primary connection method — with MNO infrastructure standing by as a backup — provides exceptional resilience. As natural disasters and state-sponsored attacks on infrastructure seem to proliferate, this is a vital consideration for manufacturers and any other essential enterprises.

3. Lessens the Burden of Ongoing Maintenance

Private 5G networks in manufacturing are vastly simpler installations than conventional wired networking technologies — at least from a physical infrastructure standpoint. There’s substantially less on-premises hardware to install and maintain, which can greatly benefit the maintenance and staffing budget.

The future of the private 5G IIoT is looking even more streamlined. The concept of chip-to-cloud IIoT installations — especially in manufacturing and other critical environments — is catching on rapidly. Chip-to-cloud IIoT means network nodes like connected manufacturing and material-handling equipment pass their data directly to enterprise-planning software or a cloud control mechanism. This doesn’t just shrink and simplify the manufacturer’s physical tech stack — it also reduces latency and shrinks the number of cybersecurity failure points.

It’s important to make sure that any new machines connected to the 5G network, and those retrofitted to connect to the network, are protected from electromagnetic interference. This will ensure that your machines keep communicating with other in-house machines and devices as expected.

Although some considerations like this will be similar across wired and wireless networks, expect a comparatively smoother installation, administration and maintenance experience with 5G connected devices than with cumbersome wired networks.

4. Makes Subdividing Your Network Simpler

The coordinated and homogenous ecosystem provided by a private 5G network in a manufacturing plant means IT architects may have a far easier time subdividing — or “slicing” — the assigned spectrum into separate pieces. This is important for productivity and cybersecurity concerns:

  • Productivity: Slicing a private 5G network in a manufacturing plant allows distinctions to be made between high-speed, low-latency, high-priority data transfers and lower-priority, lower-speed, higher-latency ones. No process needs to bottleneck another.
  • Cybersecurity: Subdividing a private 5G network — either at implementation or as business needs change — makes it easy to isolate networks of connected sensors and other IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices. Cybersecurity experts strongly recommend this. With proper segmentation, a hacker gaining access to a network assigned to industrial controllers won’t necessarily also be able to breach back-office payroll data, for example.

Keeping critical manufacturing infrastructure safe is a top priority in manufacturing. Verizon’s published figures for 2021 indicate 585 known cybersecurity incidents in manufacturing, 270 of which involved confirmed data exposure.

Private 5G Networking Is a Uniquely Capable Technology

5G could be the future of connectivity throughout this essential industry. It provides ultra-reliable communications, extremely low-latency data exchanges and enough bandwidth to support many connected devices through massive machine-type communications. This innovation is one of the keystones in building a truly responsive and automated manufacturing environment.

Private 5G networks in manufacturing take these advantages even further by simplifying service levels and billing, reducing maintenance expenditures and shrinking the manufacturer’s possible cyberattack surface. With these advantages, all that is left is figuring out what an enterprise will do with all that newly realized potential.

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