Anyone who loves manufacturing but cannot wait for the next IMTS should take a trip to Chicago: Just a few miles north of McCormick Place sits MxD (Manufacturing x Digital), a 100,000-square-foot facility filled with state-of-the-art machine tools, assembly testbeds, AI systems and much more—never mind the slew of knowledgeable people who work there. It’s a very cool place.
MxD is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Its mission is “to equip U.S. factories with the digital tools and expertise they need to begin building every part better than the last.” Accomplishing this goal requires a great deal of industry support, however, which is why MxD has approximately 300 partners. Siemens, John Deere, Autodesk and AT&T Business are among them.
What is North America’s largest network provider doing in an “innovative manufacturing” research and development space? In a word, just that: innovating. “As we deploy our 5G network, we’re seeing countless opportunities for its use in OT, or operational technology, much of which lies within the manufacturing realm.”
That’s according to Andrew Albrecht, responsible for 5G, MEC, and NEC business development at Dallas-based AT&T Business. As a self-professed 5G evangelist and tech nerd, he is happy to define those last two terms—MEC (multi-access edge computing) and NEC (network edge computing)—but what he’s most excited about is helping manufacturers understand the various value propositions that he and the team at AT&T’s 5G Center of Excellence can deliver.
Again, what does wireless and cellular technology have to do with manufacturing? As it turns out, plenty. “Without getting into the technical details, 5G networks provide far greater security and connection density than 4G and even Wi-Fi,” Albrecht said. “This opens the door to simpler, safer and more cost-effective deployment of various technologies that are becoming quite meaningful to manufacturers.”
Among these are “video-as-a-sensor” capabilities, autonomous vehicles and robots, AR/VR and location-based services, as well as a slew of IoT and remote machine-monitoring applications. All of this brings us back to MxD, where AT&T Business has installed 5G millimeter wave technology and is testing some of these use cases, as well as the MEC technologies mentioned earlier.
Said Albrecht: “Manufacturers want to collect more data from their factory floors, and 5G brings a lot to the table in this respect. It offers reduced latency compared with legacy technologies, and as I already mentioned, the security is much better. These and other benefits will only improve as 5G evolves. Going forward, we see it as an important tool for manufacturers trying to optimize operations, achieve greater production accuracy and throughput, and reduce defects. That’s why we’ve partnered with MxD.”