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5G Factory Automation - From Ford to the Factory Floor

At the recent 5G Roadshows events in Dallas and Columbus hosted by Nokia and Verizon, business customers inevitably gathered around the 5G Industrial Automation demo. In the demo Nokia showed how 5G can leverage connected power tools to improve manufacturing quality, to help digitalize manufacturing assembly and training processes with intelligent insights and to enhance productivity and agility. It is clear to me that industrial automation is on the top of customers’ minds these days.


I was trying to think back to my first memory when I saw factory automation. It was around 1978 in grade school when we were studying American History. We were watching a film on Henry Ford and the creation of the industry’s first moving assembly line. I have this specific memory of sitting in a dark class, a grainy black-and-white movie playing, dust motes floating in the projected light, watching a scene with the skeleton frame of an old Model-T wobbling back and forth on a moving assembly line as workers swarmed around the vehicle at their station wrenching pieces of the frame together.

I think we can all agree factory automation has come a long way. As we jump 105 years to today, automated systems and robotics are now well-known features to anyone who has seen a modern car being created. These advanced factory systems use robots for welding, die-casting, painting, bending, cutting, transport, stamping, all along with the workers on the floor.

The current problem is that factories are still rather static. A company will set up a production line and optimize it for one kind of product. And then for additional production, you either purchase another production line and optimize it or you go back and reconfigure an existing unused system. And you do this again and again and again.

This is where the 5G vision for the factory of the future comes in. In manufacturing, 5G’s key capabilities of very high reliability and ultra-low latency, allow us to control robotic systems in real time, and connect thousands of sensors to send a continuous stream of data to the cloud to coordinate the supply chain and use automatic guided vehicles to support production lines that are more flexible and adaptable, increasing overall productivity of the factory. 

Not only will 5G bring further capacity while guaranteeing the latency and reliability of the connectivity as the number of machines to be connected significantly increase, the inherent cloud nature of 5G will also allow some of the machine control data to be processed in the cloud and not in the machine itself, to help save machine cost and improve coordination. The 5G cloud native architecture design needs to not only look at the sensitivity of data but the instantaneousness of where data should be processed. In instances where singe millisecond latency is needed to be able to make decisions, you do not want that happening in a cloud that is far away.

Just as the cutting-edge factory more than 100 years ago consisted of workers swarming around the factory line, manufacturers are creating the 5G cutting edge by integrating wireless chipsets and processing & automation capabilities into factory robots, machines, AGVs, sensors, logic controllers, and sub-systems. 5G wireless connectivity helps reduce the complexity associated in the deployment and the management of cables to connect the machines. It also enables the mobility of the machines, making the dream of very flexible factories possible with production lines that can be reconfigured based on demands. And maybe someday in the future a student will be looking back to video footage of our factories now and be amazed at how rigid and constrained the production lines used to be!

Verizon and Nokia will bring the 5G Enabled Industrial Automation demo to Philadelphia on October 10 and to San Jose on November 12th. Come see the demo and join the discussion.

Nokia already has a range of 5G proof points. We have 42 commercial 5G contracts with mobile operators over 100 5G engagements. See our 5G solutions in action.

Nokia's digitalization of its 5G Oulu factory has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as an "Advanced 4th Industrial Revolution Lighthouse"

Whatever your plans for 5G, don’t wait. It’s closer than you think, and the opportunity is there for the taking.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #AI #industry40 #VR #spectrum

Paul Norkus

About Paul Norkus

Paul is pushing the boundaries of product marketing for Nokia the way Nokia is pushing the boundaries of 5G. He has an MBA from Olivet Nazarene University and a Bachelor's Degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering from Purdue University.

Tweet me at @PaulNorkus

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