Digital transformation is more than a buzzword. It’s a clear strategic shift occurring among organizations across industries, and manufacturing is no exception. Here, too, operations managers are using new technologies to improve production, make supply chains more efficient, and get a grip on cybersecurity, data privacy and sustainability. 

But can factories and other facilities become more efficient, smarter and faster – and greener too? In a word: yes. Manufacturers are discovering how private 5G, with its high bandwidth and low latency, can help them monitor and control processes and machines in real time, and explore more opportunities for using IoT and automation.

While earlier versions of wireless technologies could not support the real-time demands of edge computing, for example, 5G technology has cleared these hurdles, leading to rising demand for private 5G networks. Now, organizations can expand their wireless coverage securely and discover new use cases – including those linked to IoT – in many business areas. 

At this year’s Hannover Messe industrial trade fair, held in Hannover, Germany, in April, experts from NTT – including myself and my colleague Sagi Elster, Director: IoT Go-to-Market – were on stage several times to discuss how the convergence of 5G and industrial IoT is benefiting our clients in manufacturing and other industries in terms of business opportunities, advances in AI, security, sustainability and more.

Read on to gain insight into the topics we discussed:

5 areas where using private 5G is making manufacturing smarter

  1. Group wireless communications (push-to-talk): Private 5G is connecting teams across locations with group calling and instantaneous messaging facilities combined with real-time location tracking. 
  2. The connected workforce: Augmented and virtual reality, supported by private 5G, can enable self-assist (training and guidance, real-time data-sharing and finding contextual information), work-assist (instructions and checklists) and remote-assist (such as taking part in expert training sessions) capabilities. 
  3. Autonomous guided vehicles: Portable robots can transport materials across industrial sites, with private 5G making real-time connectivity and control possible. 
  4. Computer vision: Automatic video surveillance, inspection and guidance – such as detecting product flaws by video – is faster and more efficient on a private 5G network. 
  5. Connected devices (PCs, tablets, handhelds): Mobile devices can now remain securely connected to the enterprise network throughout a work shift without relying on Wi-Fi or portable hot spots.

Despite these exciting possibilities, private 5G can be complex to set up and manage. NTT’s Private 5G delivers the features enabled by this technology in a fully managed, enterprise-friendly turnkey package directly to organizations.

We have also just announced a new private 5G installation for a leading university in Germany, the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen. The university was in need of stronger on-campus connectivity, particularly in areas with teams of scientists and students focusing on research, but they also needed complete visibility and control over network functionality.

Saving resources with IoT

Once organizations have embraced 5G to upgrade their networks – whether in an industrial or office-based environment – they are in a good position to explore the many ways that IoT can support their sustainability goals.

The regulatory environment around emission reduction is changing fast. In the US, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission is calling the shots on emissions reporting for listed companies, and in Europe, there’s the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. So, organizations have to find ways of measuring their emissions so they can include this data in their annual reports, giving new weight to corporate sustainability goals that may previously have been little more than a marketing exercise.

There are several areas where IoT can contribute to sustainability outcomes. These include:

  • Utilities: In the past, the only way to monitor a gas, water or electricity meter was to go to the meter and read it manually. This can now be done remotely at any interval, and trends or sudden changes become visible in real time. For example, a water leak can be detected within minutes, leading to an automated alert calling for maintenance. We can even take this a step further with actuators placed inside water pipes to seal them automatically in case of a leak.
  • Air quality: Monitoring air quality in real time can be beneficial in several ways. For example, knowing when and where air pollution in a city will reach a peak may help employees decide when to commute to the office and along which route. Having access to the data means we can take action and change our behavior – both as individuals and as organizations.
  • Building environment: We can easily monitor environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and carbon-dioxide levels in an organization’s offices and other facilities. Humidity affects the operation of heating and air-conditioning systems, for instance, and organizations may spend more on energy bills if they can’t control humidity levels. Inefficient air-flow systems are likely to create more emissions. Similarly, sensors can monitor whether doors and windows are open or closed and adjust the air-conditioning accordingly.
  • Lighting: We can automatically measure how many people are in a conference room. Once it’s empty, we can switch off the lighting, heating and so on. We can even measure the intensity of sunlight coming through the windows to adapt the use of artificial lighting accordingly and save on energy bills.
  • Trash monitoring: We can also use IoT to measure the levels of trash bins in an organization’s facilities and link the data to collection schedules so a truck is dispatched only once the bins are full, once again leading to fewer emissions.

NTT’s IoT for Sustainability is a suite of full-stack solutions that help our clients address their sustainability challenges by measuring and monitoring assets and activities that contribute to their carbon footprint, leading to actionable insights that help them operate more efficiently and reduce waste.

This article includes contributions by Sagi Elster, Director: IoT Go-to-Market at NTT