Overview of Samsung Electronics 'Nano city Hwasung Campus' South Korea's smart factory sector has been affected by COVID-19.

Overview of Samsung Electronics ‘Nano city Hwasung Campus’ South Korea’s smart factory sector has been affected by COVID-19. Source: AFP

Why Korea’s telcos are developing 5G smart factory solutions

  • South Korea’s telco operators are all coming out with 5G-powered smart factory solutions in Q3 2020
  • The news comes as the country attempts to revitalize its manufacturing sector, and incentivize SMEs to join 
  • The 3 major telcos have all contributed solutions that will run off their respective 5G networks that are already available, or will be ready by year-end

In a bid to help manufacturers and small-medium enterprises cope with the current pandemic-induced economic downturn, South Korea’s major telecommunications operators have been pitching in by introducing new 5G-powered smart factory solutions that aim to boost the efficiency of production systems that have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus.

In recent years, South Korea has emerged as a leading manufacturing economy, and is on the bleeding edge of Industry 4.0 innovations in various production fields by harnessing the sophistication of integrated technologies such as IIoT (Industry Internet of Things) platforms, data collection and processing tools, software-integrated operation floors, and many others.

Korean industrial operations have been hit hard by health and safety considerations slowing down access to their sites, supply chain interruptions and delays, and reducing demand for exports as the global economy still grapples with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the manufacturing sector has resumed most of its regular operations.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) had been looking to extend smart factory tech to local SMEs, as more than 99% of companies in Korea are small and medium-sized businesses, and was targeting to have 30,000 smart factories in the country by 2025.

Data from industry tracker Global Market Insights estimates the global smart factory market to reach US$155 billion by 2025, double the market value of US$75 billion in 2018.

With the pandemic causing setbacks, the major telco networks SK Telecom, KT Corp., and LG Uplus Corp. have stepped in with 5G-enabled smart factory services that can help enhance the efficiency of existing systems. South Korea has the most developed commercially-available 5G networks currently in the world ahead of China, and these networks are being increasingly leveraged in the smart manufacturing sector to reduce operational dependencies and help in cutting costs.

SK Telecom, the country’s largest mobile carrier, for one has released a subscription-based smart factory solution for SMEs called Metatron Grand View, that will help smaller manufacturers optimize their manufacturing equipment maintenance. 5G-enabled smart sensors placed on the equipment will track, collect, and analyze data to determine maintenance schedules, according to the mobile carrier.

To aid smaller smart factory operations during this pandemic period, SK Telecom (or SKT) is offering 100 companies a free six-month trial each of the cloud-based service that runs on its 5G network. SKT is also providing smart factory operations training and IoT terminal installation during this period, while the monthly subscription rate will reduce the initial cost overhead for SMEs.

SKT said Metatron Grand View will boost manufacturing output, contributing to a 15% reduction in costs, and that adding AI-based predictive maintenance could extend the lifespan of equipment by over 20%.

Not to be outdone, fellow carrier KT Corp is supplying an industrial robot for packaging processes to a local auto parts maker, Parkwon. This bot is controlled by KT’s 5G service, and is said to be able to cut down packaging times by 28%. KT has also been developing a 5G-based smart factory management solution with American computer vision firm Cognex, that will offer real-time product monitoring, a cloud platform, deep-learning analysis and production process notification alarms.

The management solution called 5G Smart Factory Vision will also rely on 5G mobile networks to connect cameras and transfer image data onto a cloud network in real-time with zero latency – simplifying production quality control processes and reducing running costs. South Korea’s third-largest wireless network operator, LG Uplus, on the other hand, has partnered with the township of Gumi to fully deploy its 5G coverage across the city’s industrial manufacturing hub, and will offer its own smart factory solutions to SMEs in the area.

LG Uplus will also supply its 5G-enabled security sytem at its parent company LG Electronics’ factory in Cheongju starting next month. The security system is capable of detecting workplace safety risks, including sudden temperature changes.