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Midea showcases why 5G is key for a smart factory

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 2 min read
Midea showcases why 5G is key for a smart factory
AGVs in Midea’s Thailand factory don’t require preset routes. They can plan and analyse the real environment in real time to move around safely. Photo: Huawei and Midea
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Manufacturing operations tend to be labour-intensive and dangerous but this is changing as manufacturers modernise their factories for them to become more connected, automated and smart. Mordor Intelligence predicts that the connected manufacturing industry in Asia Pacific will be worth US$54 billion in 2025 and more than US$80 billion by 2029.

China’s home appliance company Midea Group is among the manufacturers that have embraced smart factories. In its factory producing air conditioners in Thailand, human workers use 5G-enabled smartphones to remotely start the assembling process, which is run by robotic arms. The robotic arms can reliably and evenly adjust the flow of production materials as necessary, increasing the quality of products while eliminating the need for humans to conduct dangerous jobs.

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are also used to transport goods or materials in Midea’s factory in Thailand. “The AGVs we use don’t need preset routes. Instead, they can plan, automate and analyse the real environment in real-time [to move around our factory safely],” Midea’s spokesperson Urban Zhao shares with the media at the Huawei Digital and Intelligence Apac Congress in Bangkok on April 29, 2024.

Using a set of cameras and lasers, those AGVs are constantly exchanging information and instructions with each other to avoid clashes. They can also detect humans and stop before contact, enabling a safer factory environment.

5G networks are the key enabler for its smart factories, says Zhao. 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth enable data from those robots and connected systems to be transmitted and analysed by artificial intelligence (AI) in real time to optimise operations and minimise unplanned downtime due to faulty machines.

Midea worked with Huawei and AIS (a telco in Thailand) to enable its 5G-enabled smart factory in Thailand.

See also: Redefining Asean’s manufacturing landscape with deep learning

This is not Midea’s first foray into smart manufacturing; its journey began in China. With the help of China Mobile and Huawei, Midea launched a fully  5G-connected factory in Jingzhou, Hubei, at the end of 2021. 5G is applied to all industrial production and business operations in that factory to enable smart manufacturing.

As a result, it takes only 15 seconds for the production line to make a single washing machine. The factory also doubled its direct delivery rate, halved its inventory and reduced labour costs by 30% per unit. It also improved its defect detection rate by 10%, thanks to 5G distributed massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology for intelligence-based quality inspection.

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