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Industry 4.0: Transforming the world’s factory

Industry 4.0
John Vladimir Slamecka, AT&T Region President for Europe

Industry 4.0 technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and artificial intelligence, can complement skilled workers in the manufacturing sector and transform how factories are run. Fueled by connectivity and data, these solutions help manufacturers automate operations, generate actionable insights and save time and cost.

Manufacturers today face unprecedented pressure, with rising operational and market challenges. They must manage evermore complex global supply chains and new logistics models, embrace new ways of working, and cope with the constant threat of cyberattacks. At the same time, customers are demanding more customised products and yet customer loyalty is more difficult to maintain as competition intensifies. Plus, all of this is playing out against the backdrop of a growing skilled-labor shortage.

At AT&T, we work to bring all the right components together for our customers - edge-to-edge – from the premise to the cloud and to the endpoints, and all wrapped in security. To help solve industry specific challenges, like those specific to manufacturing, we recently launched a vertical industry-focused space at the AT&T Foundry in Plano, Texas, providing enterprise customers with a venue to co-create innovative technologies.

For instance, the space will use 5G-enabled network slicing in a manufacturing shop floor to demonstrate the separation of the network for operational equipment efficiency. It also can employ technology to transform the retail buying experience for consumers through solutions like digital signage, IoT-enabled smart shelving and auto-inventory tracking.

To some, 5G seems like a long way into the future. But we are already there. In late October, we successfully completed the world’s first millimetre wave mobile 5G browsing session with a standards-based device on a mobile 5G network. It’s this 5G know-how that is propelling us forward to a real-world understanding of how 5G can impact manufacturing. 

Along with Samsung Electronics America, Inc. and Samsung Austin Semiconductor, LLC., we’re working towards the future of Industry 4.0 connected manufacturing. The idea is to provide insights into the future of a smart factory. We’re working together to explore use cases and technologies such as industrial IoT sensors that monitor for environmental and equipment conditions like vibration, temperature and speed as well as location services to improve safety. 5G promises to someday have a significant impact on manufacturing by unlocking new experiences in AR, powerful machine learning and intelligent robotics.

Through our work, we’ve seen increasing numbers of ambitious manufacturing companies harnessing faster networks, IoT and other technologies to relieve business pressures. IoT solutions can drive operational efficiencies to improve sustainability and control costs through better inventory management and improved asset utilisation.

Key outcomes that are already achievable with IoT solutions on a reliable and flexible core network include:

Workforce productivity: Manufacturers can empower employees with mobility solutions to bring insight onto the factory floor and improve productivity. Examples include mobile asset management, quality inspections for materials and components, and worker safety monitoring and support.

Predictive maintenance: Remotely monitoring equipment with IoT helps ensure that machines are properly calibrated for optimal efficiency and high-quality output. This condition monitoring also enables predictive maintenance, which can help manufacturers save time and money by repairing or replacing equipment before it fails.

See also

Supply chain management: Tracking the location of assets in transit lets manufacturers predict when shipments will arrive. Paired with near real-time analytics, fleet solutions can provide end-to-end visibility of goods throughout the supply chain. AT&T Fleet Complete gives business and government customers an all-in-one fleet, asset and mobile-worker tracking and management solution. It’s a unique approach that lets companies assess their vehicles, assets and drivers from a single platform. It also integrates with other AT&T products and services such as navigation systems.

Near real-time insights: With IoT sensors and other devices deployed on the factory floor and throughout the supply chain, manufacturers have an opportunity to gain near real-time actionable insights via data analytics. But this requires an IoT asset management platform that supports multiple devices, communication protocols, networks and cloud environments, and that integrates with existing enterprise systems.

IoT in action: data and insights on a global scale

One global manufacturer, for example, turned to IoT to enhance its performance in all these areas. As a leader in the design, production and servicing of commercial products, it embeds connectivity inside the goods and services it brings to market. Allied with a global mobility solution, this provides access to near real-time information and insights for the firm’s research and development teams and its service technicians in the field. Remote technicians are further supported with a fleet management solution to promote safety and efficiency. 

Back on the factory floor, Wi-Fi coverage and end-to-end network services provide on-demand capabilities to help the company optimise operations and more easily scale capacity up or down to cope with business fluctuations.

Overall, this combination of connectivity and data helps create a complete understanding of the company’s assets, from manufacturing equipment to inventory, vehicles, installed units and people, and their individual capacity and performance. Finally, to ensure that this information remains a competitive advantage, and not a liability, the entire network is secured through the cloud.

While this manufacturer is both large and global, it is not unique in its need for increased operational insight. IoT solutions can help manufacturing companies of any size to scale and respond in near real-time to their operational and market challenges.

The future of manufacturing is already here through IoT and on-demand, next-generation networking technologies. What makes the shift to Industry 4.0 even more exciting is that it goes far beyond manufacturing to transform not only how modern factories work, but also how things are designed, used and serviced.