Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s leading manufacturing hubs, especially for the production of automobiles. However, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to remain competitive mean that the nation must now focus on boosting sector productivity.

Automation has always been at the heart of boosting industrial productivity, but digital automation between manufacturers has been limited.

Yet, as we enter Thailand 4.0, we are seeing the mainstreaming of applications that make use of more advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), edge cloud computing and, most importantly, next-generation wireless connectivity provided by communications service providers and their technology partners.

Fixed cables or previous-generation wireless networks — such as 3G and 4G — are no longer practical for tomorrow’s factories. In Thailand 4.0, the level of productivity, efficiency and operational agility enabled by more advanced digital applications require ultra-low network latency and reliability that legacy networks cannot provide.

New, industrial-grade private wireless solutions powered by 4.9G or 5G connectivity offer factory operators greater enterprise control and the capacity for long-term operability and efficiency. This is due to their more robust signals, lower latency and enhanced security — factors contributing to unprecedented ability to sync with connected devices that can support human operations.

Another differentiator of these advanced systems is network slicing. This means that a dedicated “slice” of the network can be assigned to various specific operations.

This can raise automation in factories to new levels as they adopt Industry 4.0 approaches such as digital twins, autonomous mobile robots (AMR), augmented and virtual reality as well as edge computing.

Digital twins refers to data-driven representations of physical systems using IoT sensors and analytics. The technology’s transformational value has already been realised in Thailand — most notably to create a 3D map of the Tham Luang cave to assist with the rescue of the young footballers trapped there in 2018.

For factories, digital twins allow operators to gain deeper insights via increased data collection to develop virtualised models of both machines and production lines. They can also help better understand how changes will affect equipment performance and reconfiguration to meet on-demand manufacturing.

Overall, digital twins enable the monitoring of every aspect of the factory environment to keep production quality high while also allowing for predictive maintenance to keep downtime low.

During the ongoing pandemic, digital twins were also used to improve vaccine production efficiency and safety, while doing the same for personal protective equipment manufacturing. In the automotive sector, vehicle manufacturers can use digital twins to simulate car models and assembly line processes for maximum efficiency.

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