Some things seem destined to go together; for example, a wink & a smile; bed & breakfast; cookies & milk; and fish & chips. Many pundits assert 5G and cognitive technologies — often referred to as artificial intelligence (AI) — should be added to the list of famous pairs. For example, James Rundle and Angus Loten (@angusloten) write, “The convergence of artificial intelligence with internet-connected machines and superfast 5G wireless networks is opening possibilities across the planet — and even in outer space. These advancements are allowing farmers to pick the optimal way to grow crops, pharmaceutical companies to shorten the development times of new drugs, researchers to track pandemics, and cities to manage their resources in a manner that was pure science fiction at the turn of the millennium. Taken alone, these technologies have enormous potential in their own right, but combined, experts say, they have the power to transform industrial technology on a scale not seen since the advent of steam power.” As Rundle and Loten note, cognitive technologies and 5G have enormous potential on their own.
The power of AI
Peter Fretty (@pfretty) writes, “Properly leveraged, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to empower manufacturers with data-based insights specific to their individualized operations. Beyond revolutionizing the industrial approach to maintenance, AI has the potential to impact generative design, enhanced robotic collaboration and improved market understanding.” Cognitive technologies can also improve decision-making. Gal Horvitz, senior vice president of digital at Genpact, explains, “Advanced data analysis and AI can present [decision-makers] with several options to guide their decision on how to best proceed forward. So even though technology is the driving force behind these processes, humans are still in the center of decision making and action. In this collaborative environment, processes run faster, better decisions are made and the business outcomes are far greater.”
The staff at Material Handling & Logistics (MH&L) reports, “A high percentage (43%) of senior decision-makers at mid-market discrete manufacturers identified artificial intelligence among technologies likely to have the greatest impact on supply chains over the next three years, according to a study by Delaware, a technology solutions company. This technology is rated ahead of other innovations like the Internet of Things (31%) and blockchain (24%).” When survey participants were asked what benefits they expected from implementing cognitive technology solutions, they “named ‘to reduce costs’ as a top reason for innovating or making changes to their organization, while 42% cited ‘to drive operational efficiencies and productivity’.” In spite of the perceived benefits, the study also found, “Many manufacturers remain ‘behind the curve’. 75% are not using AI in their supply chain today, while 74% are not taking advantage of machine learning.” Fretty reports, however, things are moving in the right direction. He writes, “As a recent ABI report shows, the market is steadily embracing AI’s potential. Specifically, the total installed base of AI-enabled devices in industrial manufacturing is expected to reach 15.4 million in 2024.”
The power of 5G
Over the last year, people have become more aware of 5G telecommunications technology as telecom companies tout their services. The real benefit of 5G, however, is expected to be felt in the manufacturing sector. Emily Canal (@EmilyCanal) writes, “The fifth-generation wireless network is expected to improve safety, efficiency, and operational performance among manufacturers.” Tim Hornyak (@robotopia) adds, “The new fifth generation of mobile networks is a catalyst for this new industrial revolution because it offers much greater speed and bandwidth than previous networks, as well as low latency, or time required for data to travel between two points. 5G will work with and in some cases replace existing fixed, wired connections, making manufacturing more flexible and ready to implement innovations.” Here are some of the ways 5G is expected to benefit manufacturing:
Improved Internet of Things (IoT) Performance. David Van Dorselaer (@dave_van_dor), General Manager for AT&T’s Manufacturing, Transportation and Consumer Packaged Goods Industry Verticals, writes, “The manufacturing industry will continue to spend more yearly on IoT than any other industry through 2022. To manage the large amount of data and information from these connected devices, manufacturing companies will need 5G’s capacity and speeds. From procurement to distribution, 5G will mean manufacturers can connect more sensors, devices and assets through a single network giving them better visibility into the supply chain. The possibilities for these connected devices are nearly endless.” The IoT requires great connectivity and, for many manufacturers, that has been a challenge indoors. Marco Nielsen (@marconielsen), Vice President, Managed Mobility Services at Stratix, indicates 5G can help. He writes, “Carriers are already planning massive infrastructure upgrades in their towers, and due to 5G frequency bands, will also need more connectivity points than ever before. This could lead to even better connectivity indoors which is a top priority for manufacturers. Whether it is a worker taking inventory on a mobile device or tracking machine maintenance, having better connectivity indoors will lead to more efficient plants.”
Next-generation Training. Canal writes, “Augmented and virtual reality powered by 5G — which is faster than its predecessors — is expected to be used to train new and existing workers in skills like mechanical repairs. … A 5G-enabled AR headset would allow a worker to look at an existing piece of equipment and see an overlay of instructions on how to make the repair. Employees could also videoconference a remote worker to get a consultation, creating a more effective and faster workflow.” Van Dorselaer adds, “With 5G, employees will be able to work with the technologies anywhere on the factory floor. They will be able to use it for activities like training, machine maintenance, data visualization and designing. Better bandwidth will mean less probability that AR/VR connections are lost or that the technology will have to compete for connections. Imagine every employee having an AR headset that lets them adjust the production of a machine without touching it. Or visualize machine maintenance instructions on the fly.”
Safer Work Environments. Canal explains, “Cameras powered by 5G and artificial intelligence could be used to enhance worker safety. As workers enter a restricted safe zone — a place where only properly dressed workers can enter — cameras could scan the area to ensure everyone has the proper gear, even preventing doors from opening if a worker isn’t wearing a hardhat.” Van Dorselaer adds, “5G will be the catalyst that will eventually help unleash the capabilities of robotics. … Auto manufacturing is already using co-bots, or collaborative robots, to complete hard to reach, dangerous tasks underneath the car while human workers perform tasks outside the car.”
Better Supply Chain Management. According to Canal, “5G [could be used] to power better sensors and cameras that detect defects among manufactured goods. For instance, machines could find errors among prototypes, halt production, and identify what went wrong in the process at a very quick speed. … Early detection would reduce the time spent hunting for the problem and costs associated with accumulating unusable products.” Van Dorselaer adds, “5G will help enable manufacturing companies to be more flexible and adjust the network based on their needs.” Nielsen also sees 5G making big contributions. He writes, “Lower latency aspects will make remote support a reality for a wide range of critical use cases, which were not possible before. From off-site control of equipment to data analysis, remote work will be a much more seamless process. Faster speeds will blur the lines between remote and on-site as quality support will not be limited by location.”
Rundle and Loten believe when 5G and AI are working together they have superpower that can be used to “track supply chains and ingredient quality, sort produce and even create taste profiles to target specific demographics. … The manufacturing process is perhaps one of the ripest for transformation by the combination of rapidly evolving technologies. For instance, advanced sensors will pick up new levels of performance data about the heavy machinery running inside plants — which will be transmitted at superfast speeds between those machines and central control systems. In the area of maintenance, for example, plant managers could get an early warning of problems by taking performance data from the machines and coupling it with external information, such as data about what makes similar machines break down.” The bottom line is this: The possibilities of how a combination of 5G and AI can be used is promising and almost endless.
 James Rundle and Angus Loten, “The Power of Combining 5G and AI,” The Wall Street Journal, 8 November 2019.
 Peter Fretty, “AI Growth Unearths Potential,” IndustryWeek, 16 March 2020.
 Gal Horvitz, “Industry 5.0 – When man meets machine through AI,” Information Management, 14 March 2017 (out of print).
 Staff, “Only 25% of Manufacturers Use AI in Supply Chain,” Material Handling & Logistics, 10 July 2020.
 Emily Canal, “3 Ways 5G Is Going to Give Manufacturing a Makeover,” Inc., 4 December 2019.
 Tim Hornyak, “5G is accelerating factory automation that could add trillions to the global economy,” CNBC, 11 July 2020.
 David Van Dorselaer, “5 Ways 5G Will Power the Smart Factory of the Future,” IndustryWeek, 21 September 2018.
 Marco Nielsen, “Four Ways 5G Will Change Manufacturing,” IndustryWeek, 8 April 2019.