One of the nation’s largest fiber optic cable production facilities sits at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Hickory, North Carolina. From the outside, the Corning plant looks like many other major manufacturing centers. But while the exterior may not look unusual, the interior is a different story, as the company has adopted a host of sophisticated technologies to support Manufacturing 4.0, a push to use data to make decisions and solve problems.

Manufacturing 4.0 processes can enable the automation of tasks such as product packaging for delivery, real-time machine data reporting to track production, and more. Corning has long been a leader in smart manufacturing, and the Hickory plant project has unlocked new capabilities. “We primarily use data and techniques such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve visibility into our processes,” said Grethel Mulroy, senior program manager, Manufacturing 4.0 at Corning.

Mulroy says that at Corning, this kind of technologically advanced manufacturing is possible in part because of Verizon’s 5G network. Working together, Corning and Verizon teams are using connected systems to bring near real-time visibility and insights, helping to enable a new level of business intelligence for the company. In addition, Corning puts this information to use in a factory that manufactures the optical cables which are in turn used by Verizon.

5G at the factory

Corning uses Verizon 5G Edge with AWS Outposts and a private 5G network in the facility to provide fast and reliable connections to sensors, devices and machines. With 5G and edge computing, data can be processed closer to its source rather than in a traditional, remote data center, reducing network latency (the time it takes for a packet of data to make a one-way trip -return between two points). This helps improve real-time data capabilities, both in analyzing and reacting to what the data reveals, so that action can also be taken more quickly.

What does this mean for daily life at the Corning factory? This means not only connecting the business, but helping to make it smarter. Take the example of quality control.

During the fiber optic cable production process, cameras capture images of the cable as it is created and wound; these images are transmitted via Verizon’s 5G network to computers which analyze the images for anomalies that may indicate a fault. (In some cases, anomalies can be as simple as a single drop of water on a section of cable.) Previously, before 5G-enabled capabilities, it took valuable time to identify and verify any anomalies so that measures can be taken. These images can now be analyzed and classified in real time. The machine learning algorithm can then provide automatic notification to workers if a fault is detected.

This real-time analysis and the ability to act quickly helps workers troubleshoot current issues and identify why issues are occurring so they can take action to help prevent recurrence. Mulroy says it’s an example of how the system helps productivity as well as workflow in the facility.

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