July 14, 2022

Creating the next generation of smart factories with 5G and virtual twins

Why companies like Accenture and Nokia think 5G and IIoT have the potential to make factories smarter and more agile.
Avatar Rebecca Lambert

Does 5G have the potential to make factories smarter and more agile? Companies like Accenture and Nokia think so.

They shared their thoughts on using virtual twins to successfully deploy 5G networks for manufacturing in the Compass articles “Smarter Factories” and “Taming 5G transition complexity.”

5G is roughly 100 times faster than current cellular wireless communications and can support up to 1 million devices per square kilometer, Compass reported. That’s about 10 times more than is possible with existing cellular networks. For high tech factories, then, the combination of speed and ubiquity promises significant advantages in maintenance, manufacturing flexibility, and worker safety and training.

“If you have 5G, you can wirelessly connect to get real-time information from assets and production lines and avoid having a cable that prevents you from moving around freely,” Guilherme Pizzato, head of ecosystem partners for manufacturing and logistics at Nokia, told Compass.

Moving toward the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The benefits Pizzato mentioned are characteristics of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), considered a key element in the next era of manufacturing – often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. IIoT refers to assets that are connected in real time to unlock data-driven insights.

“This enables capabilities such as asset monitoring, predictive maintenance and advanced robotics,” Pizzato said.

However, until now, manufactures have not been able to fully exploit the potential of IIoT. Why? As Compass explains: previous generations of wireless communication networks – 2G, 3G and even 4G – could not offer the low latency (transmission delays) and security required for many of the IIoT’s most valuable applications. Neither can older-generation wireless technology support the high number of devices needed to enable a smart factory.

5G promises to change that.

Image courtesy of Nokia

Virtual twins tackle 5G complexity

Making the switch to 5G is not entirely straightforward though. It requires manufacturers to untangle decades of custom-connected, limited-purpose networks. Disconnect the wrong network in the wrong way and your factory could grind to a halt.

Consulting firms and telco suppliers like Accenture and Nokia propose a solution using virtual twin technology on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. They offer 5G network planning combined with coverage and performance simulation based on virtual twins of factory operations. These virtual twins are scientifically accurate and predictive models that precisely document the networks factories already have and how they interact. Consultants and suppliers then test and validate step-by-step paths for replacing them with 5G.

“For a corporate decision-maker, having a digital twin allows him or her to ask, ‘If I replace these parts of the factory with 5G, what impact do I see? What is my return on investment?’” Sanjoy Paul, managing director of Systems and Platforms R&D for Accenture Labs, told Compass.

Together, 5G-enabled IIoT and virtual twin experiences enable smarter, more agile and more adaptable high-tech manufacturing, including the ability to:

  • Integrate closely with suppliers in the value chain to increase production efficiency
  • Trace production in real time for better anticipation, control and decision making
  • Reduce production disruption and downtime through machine learning.

Mobile robots will be among the first pieces of the manufacturing equation to embrace 5G-enabled IIoT. Over time, as factories updates and upgrade their networks and equipment, the virtual twins will update too, providing complete visibility of all manufacturing assets, past and present.

Want to find out more? Check out the Compass articles “Smarter Factories” and “Taming 5G transition complexity” and head to the Dassault Systèmes industry page to see how 5G and virtual twin experiences will allow manufacturers to finally achieve true IIoT operability in their factories.

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