How technology is shaping a new era for the manufacturing workforce
The manufacturing industry is poised to transform the way its employees work in the coming years, beneftting from technological advances taking place at an unprecedented rate. In recent times, device advancements and the arrival of 4G and cloud have enabled organisations to transition to new levels of efficiency, but a new wave of technological innovations are set to drive this further. The manufacturing industry – with a significant proportion of field-based and frontline workers – is well-placed to be at the forefront of this trend. But what are the catalysts behind this new era of mobility, and where will it take the manufacturing sector?
5G creating a new era of mobility
The mainstream arrival of 5G will not only provide enhanced network speeds, but also greater capacity, both which should enable manufacturers to deliver new capabilities to their workforces. Through 5G, they will benefit from faster download and upload speeds, lower latency, and the ability to run greater capacity applications simultaneously – something particularly useful within a sector where heavy-duty machinery and complex software solutions are integral to product development and innovation.
But a subsequent impact of 5G – and where many organisations expect to see its true value – will be in its ability to serve as the foundations for greater IoT adoption in the enterprise. According to Ericsson’s recent mobility report, the number of cellular IoT connections is expected to reach 4.1 billion by 2024, with the company highlighting how such connections will help companies “to address the diverse and evolving requirements across a wide range of use cases,” one of which being manufacturing.
Through the looking glass of IoT
A recent Zebra survey found that 86% of organisations expect to increase their spending on IoT over the next couple of years. 5G, when combined with the arrival of mobile edge computing solutions, is creating an environment with the capacity, speed and data efficiency needed for widespread IoT adoption and innovation. As a result, we’re already seeing wearable solutions – most notably smart glasses – begin to permeate the workplace. By tethering to a mobile edge computing solution which, through processing data at the edge reduces latency and operational strain on the network core, this new wave of IoT-based solutions can have a considerable impact on digitally transforming the manufacturing sector.
- GE Additive partners with the University of Sydney to accelerate metal additive manufacturing
- Tesla reveals its plans to explore the use of augmented reality within its production lines
- Daimler is set to acquire $23bn in battery cells, accelerating its electrification strategy
Take, for example, workers on the manufacturing line in an assembly plant. Assisted Reality smart glasses can be used by employees to access and overlay highly-detailed specifications or instructions in real-time, ensuring greater manufacturing precision, reduced errors, and a more efficient overall process. Remote expertise can also be sought through collaboration tools, all while providing a hands-free experience so actions can be undertaken in real-time.
Securing the future
Of course, the rise of IoT brings with it data proliferation at an unprecedented scale, meaning the workforce of the future must be both educated about and protected against an increasingly diverse array of cyber-threats. SonicWall research, for example, revealed a 275% annual increase in the number of encrypted threats, as well as a 101.2% rise in the number of ransomware variants in 2017. And manufacturers are finding themselves in the firing line. An EEF report found 48% to have at some point been affected by a cyber-attack – half of which suffered financial loss or business disruption as a result. Again, mobile edge computing solutions can play an important role here – especially as IT leaders try to ensure security across an ever-extending network perimeter – by enabling data communication to be locally encrypted and translated to a communication protocol before being sent to the company’s network core via the cloud.
Given the nature of the threat faced by the industry, it’s no real surprise to see that 72% of IT decision makers within manufacturing regard data security as a key IT investment, according to Toshiba. Of course, field-based and frontline workers offer concerns in this respect, but equally the traditional office-based workers – whether in finance, sales or HR – are also potential weak links, especially as mobile and remote working continue to grow in popularity. To ensure the workforce remains protected, manufacturers need to educate their employees about implementing an authentication strategy as part of the businesses’ IT infrastructure – including laptops which boast biometric features such as fingerprint sensors, and other deeper security solutions like mobile edge computing that can recognise cyber threats before they reach the network.
Manufacturers are now entering an environment in which they are able to accumulate, analyse and act on data – itself collected in more diverse and convenient locations – and use that to create further competitive advantages and revenue streams. Within such an environment, the future workforce must strive to learn and embrace new skills and capabilities delivered by IoT solutions which can drive new levels of digital transformation across the sector.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.