How Wireless Technologies Impact Manufacturing

Today the manufacturing industry is faced with a unique opportunity for true digital transformation. Advances in wireless technology, particularly the growth of 5G networks, is poised to deliver unprecedented efficiency, safety and throughput. Delivering faster download speeds, with lower latency and higher data throughput for the connected equipment and data processing required on the factory floor while also enabling a massive number of lower-power battery-driven sensor devices, 5G has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing.

What is IIoT?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can mean different things to different people. James Brehm & Associates characterizes IIoT as a network of interconnected sensors, instruments, and other devices that are networked together with a company’s industrial applications enabling them to collect, exchange, and analyze data, making them responsive, thus facilitating improvements in productivity and efficiency as well as other economic benefits. (Whew, what a mouthful!)

Using IIoT in manufacturing can unlock new levels of efficiency and productivity. With real time data from connected assets, companies can speed up their manufacturing initiatives, lower costs, and improve performance.

Challenges in the Smart Factory Environment

Transforming a manufacturing facility into a smart factory offers tremendous benefits in terms of greater productivity and operational efficiency, but there are several key considerations that need to be taken into account.

  • Connectivity

Historically, limitations in speed, bandwidth and penetration of wireless connectivity forced manufacturers to choose wired connections – with all the complexity of their deployment and maintenance. Then came 5G came which promises comparable performance without all that messy cabling. But, successful 5G deployment will require close collaboration across both corporate IT and operations systems.

  • Interoperability

Innovations in cyber–physical systems, IIoT, AI, and machine learning (ML) have led the development of manufacturing architectures into complex networks of automation devices, services, and enterprises – requiring interoperability at different stages and levels of the manufacturing process. That means shopfloor control software, devices, manufacturing equipment and control systems are integrated into Internet-based cloud-platforms, providing various services on-demand. This can be particularly challenging where long equipment lifecycles require retrofitting, upgrading and interconnecting legacy systems with newer technologies.

  • Security

The proliferation of Internet connected sensors on the factory floor directly correlates to the size of that facilities digital attack surface. For manufacturers, securing these potential network access points is critical as a hack can result in myriad harms, including production stoppages, ransom ware and even intellectual property theft.

  • Market Fragmentation

Sadly, a suitable smart factory solution is just not something that can be bought “off the shelf.” In fact, upgrading any production facility to a smart factory requires a suite of processes to extract the data from connected devices, analyze the various types of data, identify patterns, draw insights, and finally develop industry-specific applications. That means a seemingly infinite web of partners and suppliers across the value chain. Managing the procurement, deployment and maintenance of such systems across so many players can lead to elevated risks, higher costs, lost resources, and longer time to market.

  • Data Proliferation

The adoption of IoT in manufacturing means traditional manufacturing systems will be transitioning into modern digitalized manufacturing systems. And since Modern-day manufacturing is based on multiple technologies working together, large data sets will be created, particularly with the growing adoption of video for security, worker safety, product inspection and even maintenance. The best-run processing plants depend on immense information pools to ensure quality of products, exceed time to market milestones, reduce unexpected costs and achieve profit goals.

The Requirements of Industry 4.0 Factory Floor

Today the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using networks of sensors for the acquisition and analyzing of data to gain insights and efficiencies from that data.

Smart manufacturing, supported by digital technologies and enterprise-grade infrastructure, is proven to reduce downtime, improve quality, and increase output. The deployment of 5G has raised expectations that it will enable entirely new manufacturing business models.

The promise of 5G

Factory operators constantly look for ways to future-proof their networks and 5G is an answer to their quest. Currently, procedures such as process monitoring, production line control, basic AR and remote-controlled machines are possible with 4G. However, more complex and data hungry applications such as real-time monitoring, remote control with haptic feedback, image recognition, and cloud-based VR, among the others, require more data points that older networks simply cannot handle. 5G networks not only remove the costly wiring but will enable simple and flexible reconfiguration of production lines to create an agile factory. Truly smart manufacturing can be scaled up and down within a short period of time and customized depending on the needs of a given moment.

5G offers numerous opportunities to smart manufacturing as it promises to make digital transformation on a factory floor a reality thanks to its high speed, low latency, and increased security. 5G enables cyber-physical production systems and the adoption of new technologies such as deep learning and digital twins, among others with increased demands for faster, more dependable, and greater throughput and better network connectivity.

As more manufacturers adopt 5G in their plants, and these complimentary new technologies continue to make their way deep into manufacturing processes, we expect to see a host of here-to-fore unimaginable innovation – driving manufacturing into the future.


Today’s manufacturing industry is faced with a unique opportunity. A variety of new applications require better connectivity throughout the factory. As a result, wireless connectivity is becoming even more business and mission critical, leading to more stringent requirements regarding reliability, latency, and security. Not all wireless technologies today meet the increasing demands of smart manufacturing, leaving an opportunity for 5G to fill the void.

5G is well positioned to address evolving smart factory needs because of its ability to manage higher bandwidth requirements, reduce latency needed for data processing required on the factory floor, and support the big data volumes necessary from connected equipment. By investing in 5G technology, manufacturers will have fast, secure, and reliable connectivity, to support advanced services and improved productivity.

About the Authors:

James Brehm, Founder and Chief Technology Evangelist at James Brehm & Associates is a market researcher, independent advisor and regular speaker at industry conferences. He is one of the leading voices on the state of the IoT and M2M market today.

Sara Brown, Chief Brand Maker at James Brehm & Associates helps clients turn market insights into action to achieve success in IoT.

Together they represent more than 50 years of experience and expertise.

James Brehm & Associates is a boutique market research and consulting firm that helps clients plan, strategize and implement innovative solutions that harness the power of IoT, AI and operational analytics. For more information, visit


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