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    5G and Factories of the Future

    Today’s factories are in the midst of an ongoing shift in the technology they employ. Even while deploying a variety of advanced machines to aid efficiency and automation, they rely on the outmoded use of ethernet cables to send important data. These machines could deliver far more value if they were connected to and managed by reliable wireless networks.

    As the fastest and most reliable connectivity enabler, 5G will deliver an array of innovative use cases to increase factory capabilities and boost agility, freeing operations from wire dependency. For the average factory, a large part of 5G’s wireless value will come from the fact that attaching cables to every machine and sensor in a factory just isn’t viable. This is where 5G will prove to be a game-changer. A wireless environment will also make processes smarter and less static, which is increasingly critical in today’s factories.

    Intelligent collaboration

    Tomorrow’s factory environments will see autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) operating on shop floors, fetching components, removing pieces of scrap, and freeing up workers for more important tasks by taking over less-critical work. Meanwhile, 5G-enabled facilities will benefit from sensors placed throughout, monitoring production processes and collecting data to feedback to machines and production managers. This will greatly enhance the speed of operations, improve maintenance capabilities and increase safety.

    In fact, the extremely low latency and reliability of 5G will mean that, someday soon, many of the machines critical to future factories will become something like non-human colleagues, working closely and seamlessly alongside their human coworkers to assist them throughout their day-to-day processes. Essentially, this means that the era of “collaborative robots” is just on the horizon. And from there, the possibilities will only increase.

    Making critical connections

    Today, we’re already seeing a range of companies opting for cellular connectivity. One such example, Atlas Copco — the world-leading manufacturer of vacuum solutions, generators, power tools, and the like — made a similar step last year, collaborating with us and Orange to bring wireless connectivity and intelligent manufacturing to its Atlas Copco Airpower factory in Wilrijk, Belgium. Several big-name car brands have also joined in, like Mercedes-Benz, who’s new, fully networked Factory 5G site near Stuttgart “sets new standards in terms of digitalization, automation and climate efficiency.” These companies and others like them recognize the value of seamless communication (both indoors and out, through local and global networks) for enhanced capabilities and greater flexibility.

    Our own 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas, has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a global front runner in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The Forum has awarded the site with its prestigious “Global Lighthouse” designation in recognition of Ericsson’s deployment of next-generation technology at the site and its subsequent impact – including an impressive 2.2 times improved output per employee when compared to a similar site without the automation and 4IR improvements.

    When compared to a similar site without its automation and 4IR improvements, the 5G automated factory with connected robots has delivered 120 percent improved output per employee and 65 percent reduction in manual material handling. In fact, nearly all the initial training at the 5G Smart Factory was carried out with our teams with almost no face-to-face interaction. They used Virtual Reality (VR) to connect with their colleagues in our other smart factory in Tallinn, over 8,000km away, to receive all the knowledge they’ve gained since opening their smart factory in 2019.

    A research study we carried out together with KPMG reveals that a factory utilizing wireless communication has the potential to reap a value equal to an extra USD 1 per square meter — every single day. Assuming a floor of 10,000 square meters (the smallest that can typically support a factory today), that means nearly USD 4 million a year in added value.

    Monitoring production processes will be much smoother with 5G, improving maintenance capabilities and enabling any failures or problems to be rectified quicker

    Moving from wired to wireless cellular connectivity brings greater flexibility to Industry 4.0 operations. The transition to Industry 4.0 will depend on the successful adoption of many new technologies. To accelerate smart manufacturing, digital twins of machines and operations will be a necessity, as will factory automation and real-time control of equipment and tasks. For instance, Ericsson’s factory in Tallinn has demonstrated that with augmented reality troubleshooting, the average fault detection time reduction combined with better ergonomics and faster information sharing can boost productivity by up to 50%.

    Industry 4.0 will help make smart machines smarter, factories more efficient, processes less wasteful, production lines more flexible and productivity higher. Built on the foundation of smart, secure, wireless connectivity there are opportunities to extend machine life through predictive maintenance, support rapid material handling, monitor every detail of the shop floor, and leverage collaborative robots simultaneously with mobile communication.

    5G for the future

    Leveraging 5G, we could marry remote expertise with virtual collaboration in a single place (an XR canvas) to expand our team working capabilities. In the case of manufacturing, for example, 5G could be used in factories to create “digital twins” (or virtual replicas duplicating real physical entities), enabling the simulation of various scenarios and testing processes.

    Now imagine, simultaneously working on the same complex product with colleagues in multiple distant locations while everyone sees the result of the work right before their eyes. That’s exactly what Ericsson-powered 5G will deliver for UK vehicle battery manufacturer Hyperbat in a proof-of-concept virtual reality digital twin partnership with communications service provider BT and other technology leaders. Here 5G technology will allow design, engineering and manufacturing experts to cooperate on a 3D engineering blueprint from various locations to impact physical products at the company’s Coventry production complex.

    Going forward this means that with 5G companies would be able to leverage help from experts, for example, without requiring their presence on-site — something that would not only reduce travel (and its associated financial and environmental costs) but also accelerate solutions and problem-solving while fostering smarter operations overall.

    5G can be leveraged by India to make its factories more flexible and more efficient than ever before. And both now and in the future, the boost in agility and enhancement of operations that advanced wireless connectivity will bring is going to be a critical component in India’s journey to realize its ‘Digital India’ vision.

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