Private 5G use cases for industry 4.0

In this article we look at private 5G use cases that can be deployed throughout industry, including manufacturing, logistics, and oil and gas. Private 5G technology builds the foundation for more effective industrial operations in the future through IoT and AI/ML applications.

Current state of 5g private networks

We are already seeing early deployments of private 5G networks

In April 2021, Verizon announced its first European Private 5G deployment with Nokia for Associated British Ports (ABP) at the Port of Southampton, one of the UK’s busiest ports that exports £40 billion worth of manufactured goods from the UK every year.

Spanish transport infrastructure company Ferrovial launched one of the world’s first private 5G standalone (SA) networks in October 2021, to support a number of use cases at a site constructing a tunnel under the River Thames.

Benefits of private 5g networks

Besides the technical capabilities of private 5G over other alternatives, one of the primary benefits of private 5G is to help consolidate number of communication solutions or interfaces deployed on an industrial site. This is about being able to support multiple use cases on a single network, rather than having to manage and operate multiple different solutions, each often tied to a single use case, which results in higher complexity and overall total cost of ownership.

Furthermore, the advanced capabilities of private 5G, specifically its reliability, throughput, security, and ultra-low latency can enable new use cases and applications such as real-time command and control, analytics, mass-scale IoT, and machine intelligence. These capabilities can in turn prepare industrial sites for new 5G-enabled applications that can digitally transform their operations in the future, such as predictive maintenance, autonomous mobile robots, and asset tracking.

Private 5G

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Private 5G use cases

This article looks at key use cases that will be relevant for industrial companies looking to transform their operations through private 5G.

1. Advanced predictive maintenance

How it works

  • Unplanned downtime in manufacturing costs money (lower production yield), but so does planned downtime carried out on a “just in case” basis, which is inefficient and halts functioning machines.
  • This is about the shift from “preventative” to “predictive” maintenance, and being able to conduct maintenance tasks when needed rather than on a fixed schedule, therefore potentially reducing planned downtime and preventing future breakdowns.
  • Advanced predictive maintenance uses machine intelligence on IoT sensor data to determine whether equipment is likely to fail, and services only machines that need intervention.
  • According to a 2018 study, predictive maintenance could drive $140B value globally through productivity increases and cost savings across the manufacturing sector.

Why private 5G?

  • Predictive maintenance requires large volumes of sensor data to be collected reliably and quickly, analysed, and responded to within milliseconds to prevent incipient failure.
  • 5G allows predictive control algorithms to be centralised onto edge cloud rather than in dedicated, co- located hardware.
  • Predictive maintenance is a solution that has been run in manufacturing settings prior to private 5G, initially on private LTE. As more and more machines and assets get connected, private 5G can support the device density at lower latency at scale, more so than private LTE.

Case in point

  • Telefónica Tech (digital services arm of Telefónica) recently signed a deal with Grupo Álava, an engineering services company in Spain, to launch a predictive maintenance solution for industry 4.0 that runs on private 5G.

2. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)

How it works

  • Improves efficiency, reliability and accuracy of transportation and haulage of parts and materials; reduces labour costs, increases workplace safety and flexibility of the shop floor
  • More flexible than AGVs in moving from fixed routes, i.e. pre-planned routes or tracks that are tapped to the shopfloor, or those that use Wi-Fi, to more intelligent navigation for obstacle avoidance
  • Better suited to more agile production, where you can easily redeploy AMRs in the case of any modifications to products or production line

Why private 5G?

  • AMRs require high bandwidth that private 5G possesses to leverage built-in sensors and navigation tools (e.g. cameras, scanners) to navigate around the facility using the most efficient route it determines.
  • They also require its lower latency to react to obstacles or hazards on their route
  • When you have AMRs moving over large spaces in a site, or perhaps from indoors to outdoors across buildings for example, private 5G has the advantage over Wi-Fi given the advantages from a mobility and coverage perspective (fewer access points, better coverage both indoors and outdoors)

Case in point

  • There have been a number of trials of AMRs on private 5G networks, including Nokia who have tested an AMR solution to improve material flow automation at their “factory of the future” in Oulu, Finland
  • A recent deployment is at a manufacturing plant in Thailand owned by Yawata Eloctrode, where AMRs are being run on AIS’s private 5G private network platform.

3. Real-time inventory management

How it works

  • Tracks and monitors the position and usage of assets in real-time, increase visibility with greater accuracy in order to better manage assets over their lifecycle
  • Automates inventory management to prevent any potential delays with parts or materials required for production

Why private 5G?

  • In manufacturing sites there are a lot of items that need to be monitored, each of which requires a sensor. Such a large number of sensors being tracked in real time takes up a lot of bandwidth that private 5G can handle
  • The higher reliability afforded by private 5G is also important to ensure that items do not get misplaced
  • In larger sites when items are moving relatively large distances the extended coverage is also an advantage over Wi-Fi as items will not get lost when moving from one router to another

Case in point

  • ADLINK have a smart warehouse solution which can monitor the position and status of pallets, their edge hardware is highly compatible with 5G

4. AR/MR for lone worker and MRO

How it works

  •  Supports on-site workers to safely conduct maintenance, repair or and operations supplies (MRO), in place of or supervised by a remote specialist
  • AR enables critical parameters, information and instant hazard warnings to be displayed as an overlay for real-time interactions

Why private 5G?

  • AR/MR requires ultra-low latency to enable users to work effectively, if latency drops below 33ms then the experience becomes impractical – private 5G can enable this
  • High bandwidth for streaming the live feed along with any overlays also requires private 5G
  • High reliability is another requirement as often engineers will be doing repairs on dangerous and expensive
    equipment in real time

Case in point

  • There have been a number of successful trials for this use case, including:
    Lufthansa teamed up with Vodafone and Nokia in 2 separate projects which look to allow remote support to access airline engineers using private 5G
    − The Worcestershire 5G consortium also worked with Yamazaki Mazak to deploy a 5G enabled AR remote expert support solution
    − In Schneider Electric’s Le Vaudreuil Factory they tested an AR application that enables operators to superimpose real-time data and virtual objects onto cabinets, machines, or an entire plant, run on Orange’s 5G network

5. Drone for site inspection and asset tracking

How it works

  • Performs real-time industrial inspections via drones at remote, difficult environments or hard to reach locations such as pipelines, rigs, mines
  • Improves safety, setup, operating time and cost compared to manual inspections. Drones or other UAVs can create a digital twin of existing assets (video, 3D visualization, accurate aerial data)

Why private 5G?

  • Drones require high bandwidth to transmit high definition video to operators and enable them to identify issues with assets
  • There is also a need for high security so that drones or the data they are collecting cannot be stolen by competitors/other parties
  • The outdoor coverage is another aspect where WiFi can be problematic and has lower reliability which could mean that control of the drone is lost

Case in point

  • Bentley Systems, an infrastructure engineering software company, has used drones to automate the inspection of 5G towers in place of human crews, which cost approximately $2000 to $5000 per inspection.
  • Telia and Ericsson have also partnered to livestream industrial inspections using drones, which they aim to run on 5G
Matt Bamforth


Matt Bamforth

Senior Consultant

Matt is a Senior Consultant at STL and has experience in consulting projects across a wide range of topics. These span areas such as 5G, private networks, telco cloud, and edge computing. Matt has previous experience in strategy consulting, as well as in the Fintech sector. He holds a BSc in Economics from University College London.

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