5G a key enabler for shaping the future smart factories

Written By Dr. Pouria Sayyad Khodashenas (Technical Manager Of Zero-SWARM Project 5.5G/6G Expert, Huawei Technologies Sweden AB)

Multiethnic Car Factory Engineer in Work Uniform Using Tablet Computer. Automotive Industrial Manufacturing Facility Working on Vehicle Production with Robotic Arms. Automated Assembly Plant.

Industry is among the important pillars of the European economy – the manufacturing sector accounts around 2 million enterprises, more than 33 million jobs and plays an important role on the productivity growth. We are witnessing the dawn of a new industrial revolution, driven by the rapid technological advancements such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data and data analytics, robotics and 3D printing. Soon manufacturers will become more adventurous, more efficient, improving processes and developing innovative products and services to meet consumer demands better.

As more and more ‘smart’ devices are integrated into manufacturing, the industry 4.0 vision gets closer to become a reality in day to day life. It combines artificial intelligence and data science with the advance and efficient wireless communication technologies, IoT, edge computing to realize the green European fit for the digital age vision. Sensors and tags are attached to parts to track them throughout the manufacturing and assembly process. Sensors are also used to improve the performance of machines, to extend their lives, to predict when equipment is wearing down or in need of repair, and to learn how machines can be redesigned to be more efficient. This could reduce maintenance costs by 40% and cut unplanned downtime by 50%. Furthermore, an increasing amount of data being created by Industry 4.0 provides the opportunity for the manufacturer to significantly enhance the customer experience by using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Just as an example, AI can be used to make more sense of the mountains of data manufacturers are now collecting and storing. It can also be used to improve customer service and support.

At the same time, the introduction of the  proper wireless connectivity provided by technologies like 5G non-public network (NPN) able to handle massive machine type communications are substantially increasing the use of additive manufacturing (AM) concept in different industries. AM is used to produce products that can be customized individually. The technology offers several benefits to the manufacturing industry, including shorter production lead times, reduced time to market for new product designs, and faster response to customer demand.  As a matter of fact, the mentioned revolution is not a luxury choice of the industry but it is an obligation enforced by the future direction of the business. Manufacturing companies around the world are under extreme competitive pressure due to shorter business and product lifecycles. Margins are being squeezed more than ever, and workforces are aging and becoming costlier to maintain. Improving efficiency and reduce costs through new process innovations—technologies like robotics and swarms, warehouse automation, smart factories, and flexible manufacturing brought a promising direction to keep the globally competitive pace, aiming to support future manufacturing with increasing revenue by better serving their customers, increasing demand, beating the competition, decreasing costs by increasing productivity and efficiency, and decreasing risk by increasing safety and security. To this end, several key challenges have to be addressed on the factory floor, among others: Ultra-reliable, resilient, instantaneous connectivity for millions of devices; Low-cost devices with extended battery life; Asset tracking throughout the ever-changing supply chains; Using AR/VR to enhance the manufacturing operations and shopping experience; Using AI and digital twins to enhance operations in multiple areas or enterprise-wide.

Technically speaking, the mentioned challenges above can be somehow seen under the umbrella of the smart Industrial IoT (IIoT) ecosystem. The “Internet of things” (IoT) is an extension of the Internet and other network connections to different sensors and devices—or “things”. The concept is based on a general rule that ‘Anything that can be connected will be connected”. This includes everything from industrial equipment such as car engines, jet engines, the drill of an oil rig, washing machines, cellphones, wearable devices, and much more. IoT provides a higher degree of computing and analytical capabilities to even single objects. It is a rapidly evolving technology that more and more industries are willing to adapt to improve their efficiency. Smart terminals, mobile broadband, and cloud computing enable widespread connectivity, transforming the world around us including industry. The future will witness:

  • Wireless sensors actuators, and network layer: this layer has sensors, RFID tags, and connectivity network. They form the essential “things” of IoT system and collects real-time information. Sensors convert the data obtained in the outer world into data for analysis. Actuators intervene in the physical reality—they can switch of the light and adjust the temperature in a room. Sensors and actuators cover and adjust everything needed in the physical world to gain the necessary insights for further analysis. The project will investigate and propose novel solutions in this layer.
  • Getaways and Data Acquisition Systems: this stage makes data both digitalized and aggregated. Getaways work through Wi-Fi or 5G private network, embedded OS, Signal Processors, Micro-Controllers, and the Gateway Networks including LAN (Local Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network), etc. The responsibility of Gateways is routing the data coming from the sensor, connectivity, and network layer and pass it to the next layer. Data acquisition systems (DAS) connect to the sensor network and aggregate output. This stage processes the enormous amount of information collected on the previous stage and squeeze it to the optimal size for further analysis. Industrial data space and GAIA-X are two cutting edge directions to facilitate data acquisition and process in the manufacturing context. The proposal will put effort to investigate and propose innovative solutions based on the mentioned initiatives. At the same time, interfacing and harmonizing the interaction between the mentioned technologies with the standard solutions coming from other domain such as multi access mobile edge computing, 5G NPN, etc. is an important challenge that the project will address.   
  • Edge IT-Management Services: this layer is responsible for data mining, text mining, and analysis of IoT devices, analysis of information (stream analytics, data analytics) and device management. This stage provides analytics and pre-processing and prepares data before it is transferred to the data center or cloud for further analysis. Edge IT systems are located close to the sensors and actuators, creating a wiring closet. The project will focus on challenges on this layer and tries to address issues such as cloud continuum, collaborative edge, and distributed intelligence, among others. 
  • Datacenter and cloud the main processes of analysis, management, and storage of data happen in the data center or cloud. This stage enables in-depth processing, along with a follow-up revision for feedback. The proposal will focus on issues such as intelligent decentralized scheduling and orchestration mechanisms, aimed to distribute data across nodes while enhancing system reliability; foster service reusability and maintenance: applications are made from existing services. Thus, services can be reused to make many applications; platform independence and interoperability: it allows making a complex application by combining services picked from different sources, independent of the platform; span from far-edge to centralized cloud, including interactions with devices and terminals aimed to optimize data collections procedures; Embed security and trustworthiness while ensuring dynamicity


As the 5G NPN provide the network characteristics essential for manufacturing, Zero-SWARM will put a special focus on the uptake of it on the future manufacturing context. 5G will give manufacturing companies a chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality for troubleshooting. 5G is a significant technology for industry digitalization that directly enhances connectivity, quality, speed, latency, and bandwidth. 5G could help overcome manufacturing problems and pain points, including connectivity issues such as insufficient bandwidth, speed, seamless connectivity indoor and outdoor, and latency issues. 5G will also improve connectivity for a large network of sensors for predictive maintenance of factory floor machines and robots. 5G networks will allow for higher flexibility, lower cost, and shorter lead times for factory floor layout changes and alterations. 5G networks, services, and connectivity capabilities have the potential to transform production, business models, and sales in ways that will benefit manufacturing. Advanced 5G networks and information processing technology can streamline smart factories, improve internal and external communications, and unify full product life cycle management on a single network. It will unlock the required capacity to overcome pain points and crucial use cases on the manufacturing floors, among all:

  • Industrial control and automation category:
    • industrial automation and control of robots and smart factories;
    • tracking of goods in the end-to-end value chain;
    • fully automated robotics;
    • immersive remote operations
  • Planning and design category:
    • factory floor production reconfiguration, layout changes, and alterations;
    • simulation of the factory process;
    • long term sustainability
  • Monitoring and tracking category:
    • applications to gather and monitor data;
    • hazard and monitoring sensing;
    • real-time communication between machines;
    • tracking of goods in the end-to-end value chain;
    • real-time data collection, analysis, and monitoring;
    • augmented reality for troubleshooting


Industry 4.0, driven by IoT, cloud computing, big data, and 3D printing, is revolutionizing the manufacturing sector. It improves efficiency, reduces costs, and enhances the customer experience. Technologies like robotics, smart factories, and flexible manufacturing are addressing key challenges and keeping the industry globally competitive. IoT provides computing and analytical capabilities to even single objects, and the future will witness advancements in wireless sensors, data acquisition systems, and edge IT-management services. AM is used for shorter production lead times, reduced time to market for new product designs, and faster response to customer demand.