OPERATOR Q&A: SMART MANUFACTURING – UNLOCKING INDUSTRY POTENTIAL


Willis Sim

Chief Corporate Sales and Solutions Officer, M1

Emmanuel Routier

VP Industry 4.0, Orange Business Services

Ra Kyhong-hwan

Head of Data Business Cooperation Team, SK Telecom

Paul Taylor

Head of Manufacturing Industry Verticals, Vodafone Business

Experts from four global mobile operators share views on the role of the industry in speeding up the development of Industry 4.0 and how 5G can address challenges to ensure smart manufacturing fulfils its potential.

Q: What are the main incentives for enterprises to step into the world of smart manufacturing?


Willis Sim (WS)

The key incentive for businesses to adopt smart manufacturing is that it allows them to leverage technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) to replace high-risk activities and intricate operations. For instance, image recognition software can detect production flaws such as hairline cracks or scratches, and AI-powered video analytics enables supervision of the manufacturing process through a remote location.

This increases productivity, minimises production flaws and allows better management of resources, among other benefits. Digitalisation of the production process also enables key decision makers to quickly extract production data to curate actionable knowledge and take better business decisions.

Emmanuel Routier (ER)

A revolution in manufacturing is well underway. Industry 4.0 embraces smart machines and production capabilities that can autonomously exchange data and trigger actions. It is the big next step in digitisation, following on from Industry 3.0, which marked a huge jump in the use of computers and automaton in manufacturing.

The current pandemic further increased the drive for digital transformation and manufacturing is no exception. Smart manufacturing adds advanced capabilities such as predictive maintenance and greater bandwidth to deliver data critical to operational processes. This flexibility in the production line decreases downtime, diminishes risk, reduces production costs and improves overall competitiveness. Remote monitoring, maintenance and remote control of production lines improves the performance and usage of machines. It also helps anticipate issues leading to greatly improved equipment effectiveness.

Smart manufacturing also has the potential for greater personalisation, by synching production to customer orders. This again is made possible by smart manufacturing’s innate flexibility and the ability to change production parameters remotely.

These all lead to the ultimate goal of reducing production costs. However, realising these benefits will ultimately depend on how well the digital transformation journey is managed. This includes key factors, such as the manufacturer’s smart manufacturing strategy, governance and the digital expertise of its partners and workforce.

Ra Kyhong-hwan (RK)

In fact, smart manufacturing has been pursued by many enterprises for a long time. However, the latest information and communication technologies (ICT) such as 5G network, AI and mobile edge computing (MEC) hold the power to take manufacturing to the next level.

While 4G brought about faster speeds for mobile video streaming services, 5G is capable of handling massive amount of data generated by an enormous number and variety of connected equipment and devices in real time. With super-fast and ultra-low latency 5G connectivity, AI can help enterprises minimise human errors and improve overall efficiency in manufacturing. They will also be able to use the time saved for more productive and important tasks.

For instance, we commercialised an innovative smart factory solution named “5G-AI Machine Vision” in 2019 and provided the solution to Myunghwa Industry, an auto parts manufacturer based in Banwol Industrial Complex, Korea. The solution performs product quality verification in an automated manner by sending high-resolution, multi-angle photos of auto parts on conveyor belts to the MEC platform over the 5G network, allowing the server’s AI to instantly scan the photos and check for defective parts. By processing all data at the MEC platform located within the factory, Myunghwa was able to detect defective products in less than 30 seconds, achieving around 30 per cent of cost savings through two times higher productivity.

Paul Taylor (PT)

We live in a period of great uncertainty, making it even more challenging to adapt to a rapidly changing economic and social landscape. Our experience with customers, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, has shown us that those enterprises who have implemented smart manufacturing through the IoT, analytics and next-generation tech like augmented reality (AR) have seen stronger levels of resilience. This technology has allowed them to digitalise processes, adapt the supply chain and even increase revenue.

Smart manufacturing paired with digital supply chain practices have become the hallmarks of industry leaders, as indicated from our experience and evidenced by research from the World Economic Forum, among others.

Q: What’s the role of mobile operators in speeding up the development of Industry 4.0, and what kind of services do they need to offer in order to be on top of this transformation?


WS Implementing Industry 4.0 requires fast, reliable and secure connectivity, and this is where telcos have a role to play and this is where 5G comes in. M1 has been on the forefront of the 5G ecosystem in Singapore and the upcoming 5G network that M1 will be launching in Singapore will provide network slicing, ultra-low latency communications, higher throughput and hyper-connectivity that will enable a wide range of applications and solutions which will revolutionise the manufacturing sector.

ER

Cellular technologies are robust enough for industrial applications and provide a higher level of security for internal and external risk, network slicing in 5G is further managing prioritisation and securing workflows. Network slicing allows networks to be separated virtually to provide guaranteed throughput.

Mobile technologies such as 4G and now 5G are replacements for numerous existing networking technologies, including fibre, copper line and private mobile radio (PMR). Finally, manufacturers are able to rely on one technology in terms of 5G instead of deploying and managing multiple technologies often for one manufacturing process which is far from cost-effective.

Mobile operators can provide cellular networks in different configurations including virtual, hybrid and fully private that are key in supporting crucial Industry 4.0 use processes such as automated quality control. These use cases will be further improved with 5G, which will bring with it increased speed and reduced latency with systems reacting in real time.

Mobile technologies can be fully private in terms of their design, build, implementation and even run. Virtual private networks use the operator’s own licences and frequencies. A hybrid solution uses private licences in terms of spectrum and public spectrum to create joint architectures inside and outside the manufacturing site.

Orange Business Services is a network-native digital services company. Unlike our mobile operator competitors, we are a telco, IT and service company that can bridge IT and operational technology (OT). We have the tools and expertise to get both functions working in harmony together. This capability is central to a successful digital transformation. In addition, through our consultancy, we can support manufacturers in the design and delivery of an end-to-end solution or individual components for the data journey.

RK

Mobile operators have a huge role to play as they can provide the key technologies that will drive Industry 4.0. Believing that 5G, coupled with edge computing and AI, can bring changes and innovations like never before to all sectors and industries, we at SK Telecom have been focusing on securing these core technologies earlier than others and developing services and applications that meet both the current and potential needs of enterprises.

For instance, private 5G networks with edge computing products allows enterprises to experience productivity enhancement, cost reduction and strengthened data security by handling all processing and storage tasks via on-site computing resources. And by applying AI to this mix, the massive amount of data generated from facilities, equipment and devices connected via 5G can be analysed and utilised to create more intelligent solutions for optimised factory automation.

In November 2019, we have launched a subscription-based smart factory solution called Metatron Grand View, which is designed to help manufacturers optimise their manufacturing equipment maintenance and reduce costs. The solution analyses big data based on AI to provide equipment health monitoring and predictive maintenance around the clock. It offers continuous optimisation by detecting, analysing and predicting production issues in real-time.

PT

There are a few reasons why operators can help speed up the development of industry 4.0 and probably the most important is scale. Scale can only be achieved with the adoption of widely recognisable standards, with 4G/5G arguably some of the most widespread global standards out there.

When mobile operators are not included, one challenge we often see is the fragmented nature of digital solutions and connectivity within the manufacturing environment. By offering the option to implement a mixture of private and public connectivity solutions, operators can be a bridge between ageing infrastructure and a modern digital overlay.

This allows manufacturers to connect data, people and technology without the need to replace lots of existing infrastructure or lay expensive cables. Mobile operators can offer flexibility and high standards of connectivity, providing a platform for better analytics to fuel transformation.

Q: What are the main obstacles for enterprises to provide smart manufacturing at the moment?


WS Smart manufacturing is an evolving industry, and it requires significant investment of time, resources, effort and money to achieve the envisioned end goal. While M1 provides solutions with a suite of managed applications and solutions – tapping on the IoT, machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, Big Data analytics and video analytics to enable enterprises, the first step businesses need to take to unlock smart manufacturing is to transition onto wireless connectivity. A high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless network that is pervasive both within and outside the manufacturing unit is necessary to launch mobile manufacturing equipment like moving robotic arms or autonomous bots.

ER IT/OT convergence is a foundation for digital transformation. It helps drive integration across the enterprise to improve security, reduce risks and enhance efficiencies.

Enterprises must connect data in IT systems with operational systems to support the greater data insight smart manufacturing demands and lower operational costs. It is no secret, however, that manufacturers find this difficult as there are two sets of technologies, two separate skill groups and different concerns. These groups and technologies must talk to each other and overcoming these differences are essential to any transformation.

The technological elements are also a challenge when there are multiple components with multiple experts and often multiple vendors. Orange Business Services is able to aggregate all components and provide an integrated end-to-end solution, designed to reduce complexity.

Scaling is another issue. Many manufacturers find it difficult to move from a local smart manufacturing project to industrial sizing across the enterprise from local projects to industrial size programs. Challenges include differences in geographical locations, competencies between IT and OT people and the lack of unified tools to help them collaborate. IT and OT integration supports this scalability, opening up global manufacturing opportunities and allowing manufacturers to get to market quicker.

RK

The biggest obstacle for enterprises would be high initial cost for replacing their existing equipment and network infrastructure with new 5G-based infrastructure.

In addition, since they have in place equipment and devices of many different brands and connectivity standards, collecting data generated from this equipment/devices will require diverse advanced vision solutions, which can incur high investment costs in their early stage of adoption.

To address these challenges, we are providing a subscription-based smart factory solution called Metatron Grand View, to help manufacturers benefit from the most advanced smart manufacturing solutions without a heavy cost burden. With the solution in place, they will be able to collect data with greater ease and speed, and offer remote education/training for their employees.

PT

In my day-to-day work I see three main obstacles:

  • Employees must be central to the journey. This means ensuring that they have the right on-boarding experience, access to the right training and the necessary data to do their job. Their role needs to be augmented by new technology, not threatened by it.
  • Ageing infrastructure in multiple locations. Building a service that applies over the entire business, including all assets and processes can be a daunting task. Thankfully, there is a roadmap for mobile operators with experience that can help to break this down into manageable sections, without jeopardising output.
  • Enabling collaboration. This is no longer just between people but extends to machines, processes and also external suppliers. When all are included, those analytics become a vital and competitive asset that supports ongoing optimisation, automation and innovation.

Q: What’s the place of 5G in addressing these challenges, and what went wrong in the past?


WS While 4G networks are capable of supporting some basic smart manufacturing functions, most advanced functions require a higher degree of automation, higher data volume capacity, and lower latency that 5G provides. This makes 5G crucial for true enterprise transformation.

A reason as to why WiFi is not considered as much for such uses is partly due to its range restrictions, given that close proximity to the access point is required for higher bandwidth WiFi. Deploying WiFi outdoors can also be rather costly and ubiquitous coverage might also be a challenge. 5G makes a difference with its Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) instead.

For example, through the first Industry 4.0 5G trial partnership with IBM, IMDA and Samsung, M1 is providing the telecommunications network for development, testing and roll-out of innovative solutions for the enhancement of smart manufacturing processes. For the joint project, 5G-enabled use cases for manufacturing focused on automated visual inspection using AI for image recognition and video analytics; improved equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance using AI-enabled acoustic insights; and assembly and debugging using augmented reality to improve productivity and quality.

This trial aims to develop insights and showcase benefits of 5G in the arena of Industry 4.0. The first few in enterprise use cases, it is an innovation model that allows for development, testing and benchmarking of 5G-enabled solutions that can be applied across various industries, paving the way for more enterprises to accelerate their entry into smart manufacturing.

ER

Latency has been a big issue in the past. 5G addresses this issue by bringing reduced latency for Deterministic Networking and automated controls coupled with increased speed and reliable connectivity.

4G has played and can still play its part in smart manufacturing. But 5G brings the upload speed we have been waiting for to unlock certain use cases. Its ultra-reliable low-latency communication is essential for real-time exchange between machines. 5G’s greater bandwidth and support for higher device density and its ability to generate more data by supporting more devices will support new applications such as real-time video for quality control. These capabilities will enable robots on production lines to get information in real time and react to it.

5G also brings edge architecture to the network. Edge computing enables critical network functionality to be retained at the edge. This improves operational continuity and resilience and also provides much faster response times.

RK

Most factories are still using fixed line and Wi-Fi to support communication among devices/equipment within their facility. However, using fixed-line infrastructure is not only costly and time consuming, but also lacks flexibility when it comes to making changes in (or expanding) production lines. Also, as data volumes grow, Wi-Fi, although it can be used free of charge, cannot be a reliable option since it has a short coverage range and can suffer from congestion. Mobile connectivity via 5G can enable a more reliable and productive in-factory communication.

To support factory’s use of 5G connectivity, we are providing 5G M2M router to ensure greater flexibility and robustness. And building on this, we are actively creating new 5G related solutions and use cases.

PT

5G is truly an exciting technology, and its rapid data transfer speed at low latency will be the conduit for powerful industrial use cases. To give you a real-world example, we are setting up a 5G mobile private network at Ford’s production line testbed in the UK. The network will offer real-time data capture and analysis for precision laser welding machines that generate 500,000 pieces of data a minute. In the future, Ford is set to experiment with bringing remote engineering expertise directly to the factory floor via AR in real-time, without fear of lag.

It can be a platform for connecting disparate systems through unified digital processes to manage production tasks in a consistent and accurate way across multiple locations, and pre-empt costly outages by analysing and learning from collected data. Predictive maintenance, even on older machines with a digital overlay, has a significant impact on production efficiency.

As I mentioned before, 5G is also a global standard. This means scalability when it comes to tracing the supply chain and building connected processes; all while being analysed centrally for greater optimisation.

Whether you use Mobile Private Networks for greater site control and security or you design a solution that connects people, assets, suppliers and locations, the gains in efficiency and productivity can be significant.