Why 5G will supercharge Industry 4.0

2 min read

5G networks can help breach the last great barrier to Industry 4.0 and accelerate the servitisation of manufacturing writes Marcus Burton, non-executive Director of Yamazaki Mazak UK.

We are now reaching the critical stage of the roll-out of Industry 4.0 in the UK. With the announcement of the first ‘Made Smarter’ pilot scheme in the North West, the pressure to encourage the uptake of digital technology in manufacturing supply chains is being ramped up.

The benefits of Industry 4.0 are clear, but there remain some formidable barriers in the way of networking wider supply chains, both direct and indirect.

In the future, as manufacturing becomes increasingly servitised the ability to offer software and data analytics capability, augmented reality and predictive maintenance through AI, to name just three potential examples, will become more and more important.

5G Industry 4.0
Mazak's Worcester HQ, where it is experimenting with 5G enabled preventative and assisted maintenance technique

All of this will require a level of cooperation between suppliers and end-users which is not there at the moment. Specifically, the ability of OEMs to gain access to manufacturer IT networks for the purpose of fault-finding, remote monitoring and assisting with technical support remains limited.

We may talk about the remote monitoring of machinery, but the truth is that many industry leaders I talk to remain deeply reluctant to allow suppliers access to IT networks or the data to enable them to optimise machinery, driving improved productivity and efficiency.

Worries about viruses have morphed into deeper concerns about cyber-security and the potential for hacking. The downside risks of opening up IT networks to suppliers, understandably outweigh the upside in the minds of IT Directors. The capability is there, but the will is lacking.

In the future, I believe that 5G will become the price of entry for Industry 4.0

At Mazak, we are interested in 5G for a multitude of reasons, but the key one is its security potential.

5G enables ‘network slicing’, a form of virtual network architecture, with a single network capable of being ‘sliced’ into multiple virtual networks. Each ‘slice’ can be customised with further virtual private networks to meet the needs of specific applications, services and devices. When used in combination, ‘slicing’ and virtual private network technology could enable a machine tool provider to allow customers and other suppliers, such as automation or metrology providers, access to their ‘slice’ via an app. This would provide a secure area in which information can be stored, shared and analysed.

However, most importantly, each virtual network or 'slice' will be isolated. As such, if cyber-security is breached in one 'slice', the attack is contained and cannot spread.

This in turn will generate a level of confidence amongst manufacturers and, crucially, its IT gatekeepers, which is not there at the moment.

Mazak has been at the forefront of the Worcestershire LEP’s 5G Test Bed, along with QinetiQ and Worcester, Bosch Group; the only test bed in the UK to focus on Industry 4.0.

Our belief is that 5G offers a tantalising glimpse of how one of Industry 4.0’s biggest barriers can be broken down. The ultimate goal must be for the security and the platform to be so good that, effectively, the IT Director takes himself out of the decision.

The potential for 5G to unlock servitisation is enormous. In the future, I believe that 5G will become the price of entry for Industry 4.0 with IT Directors waving through network access privileges with the words, “That’s fine with me, you’re 5G enabled.”