ASOCS is disrupting the industrial network connectivity market with an open and virtualized software solution that delivers 5G private mobile network solutions in a single software stack.
2021 saw a shortage in raw materials compounded by COVID-19 that has led to global supply chain shortages, most recently leading to rising prices both of materials and to the consumer. Many analysts predict this is not likely to change in 2022 and even beyond. Add to the problem staff shortages due to the pandemic and we have an unprecedented situation for global manufacturing.
The challenges facing manufacturing, on the surface, are quite obvious. Lack of materials is leading to rising costs, while the ability to manufacture quantities is decreasing. The lack of silicon and computer chips not only affects the goods they are producing, with chips in almost all electrical and automotive goods, but also the machinery and hardware needed.
The key, moving forward, is to adopt Smart Manufacturing and automation to increase the capacity and lower the effective cost per unit. The same efficiency also leads to less waste and less ecological impact – another two factors that are becoming increasingly important.
Assuming that a manufacturer wishes to deploy more technology, another issue arises. The same global shortages affect the technology vendors. Being able to deploy or even scale up production capacity or connectivity has become more difficult as suppliers may not be able to handle the quantity of units required.
Coming from the Private 5G perspective, ASOCS has seen this already with suppliers unable to fulfill the required number of Radio Units for example for a medium to large factory floor. The same is true of connected cameras and other hardware needed.
It seems like a bleak picture, but as Benjamin Franklin said: Out of adversity comes opportunity. It is the challenges that are driving the acceleration in the adoption of Industry 4.0 principles. The necessity to operate more efficiently and to be more flexible in order to adapt to changing conditions are also leading to smarter solutions. Among the main drivers are Private 5G Networks as the foundation to carry information to and from devices and AI computation on the Edge.
There are 3 founding principles that a network requires in order best serve Smart Manufacturing:
- Mobility and flexibility – the ability to allow shop floors to expand, contract, move components, control AGVs and drones within and between zones. This allows the factory to be able to move and hand over via the network without interference from cables or zones – indoors, outdoors, or both.
- Reliability – the ability to control the communications in a secured, reliable and constant manner, free from outside interference and programable to enable the maximum matrix between upload and download, hierarchy or tiers, speed over quantity, and, from zone to zone
- A network that can act – a network needs to be able to act on the information carried. For example, giving a simple 4K camera AI capabilities on the Edge that can communicate and give required actions in real-time.
5G, by its nature as a software lead network, answers these requirements and Private 5G gives ownership, control, and security to the enterprise. Using a virtualized network also means that it can be managed on standard IT equipment by an existing IT team.
If there is a global supply chain shortage, then surely Private 5G Network vendors see Smart Manufacturing blessings as a curse as the increased demand for hardware strains a weakened ability to deliver quantities or at least delay the expected delivery times considerably?
The Oxford Dictionary defines interoperability as:
“…the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.”
“…interoperability between devices made by different manufacturers””
This is the key for Private 5G vendors to share the blessing of the supply chain crisis – from device to the Edge the Private 5G network must enable multiple vendors concurrently. Once this is achieved, not only can the enterprise utilize optimal equipment for the task required, but the supply chain issues are also resolved. For example, when setting up a network of cameras for use in AI computation, cameras from different vendors can be used per the requirements like size, position, coverage, light. If one radio units’ supplier can only provide only part of the required number of units, other radio units from different vendors can be controlled on the same network, by the same virtualized RAN. Not only that, the best radio units for indoors and outdoors can be taken by specialized providers and even with the factory, but radio units from different vendors may also be better suited to the conditions they need to function in.
The same flexibility means that the enterprise can change, exchange or expand with maximum flexibility with limited interference to business or time lost.
Meeting the demands of the acceleration towards the adoption of Industry 4.0 means creating a truly open approach by vendors. Rather than limit their market it will expand as more and more factories expand their Smart Manufacturing capabilities.
Manufacturing as a Service
For all network vendors, the key will be offering solutions as a service similar to a SaaS model. In the long term providers and consumers will have a mutually beneficial relationship based on usage of capacity.