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5G and jet engines – advanced manufacturing technology can cut emissions?

Do you ever think about airplanes? I do. In fact, ever since I was a kid, soaring amongst the clouds has always been a dream of mine. When I was 14, my uncle suggested I should fly with him from Sweden to the US and act as his interpreter. I did, and if I did not have the travel bug before, I certainly got it then! Just step onto an airplane, hear the mighty jet engines roar, feel the pressure against the seat as the speed increases and then finally you are airborne. What a feeling!

5G and jet engines
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Fast forward to today, and many of us have a more nuanced view of flying – sure it is great to be able to travel the world in the comfort of a big jet-engine powered airplane, but we are also getting increasingly concerned about the pollution and CO2 equivalent emissions caused by our traveling.

So, what does this have to do with 5G? Well what if there was a way to reduce our air travel emissions by making the jet engines more efficient? And what if it was actually 5G that made it all happen?

As it turns out, this is exactly what was recently revealed in an Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab report. Ericsson and Fraunhofer IPT have come up with a way of enhancing the production of one of the key components in every jet engine. Without becoming too technical, what we are talking about is a component called Bladed Integrated Disk, or blisk for short.

bdisk


It consists of a rotor disk and multiple blades around its edge and is typically produced from a solid piece of material, such as titanium. A CNC machine mills the blades with extreme precision using a cutter spinning at very high speed. Manufacturing blisks is both a costly and time-consuming task – in fact it can take a full day – but can even reach 100 hours or more.

Until today, blisk production is not monitored – in other words, the end result is not known until the milling process finishes. This translates into significant rework time, where 25 percent of the total time is a usual value.

So, what to do? When Ericsson and Fraunhofer IPT started thinking, they came up with a solution where they would use 5G to connect a sensor that can reveal problems before they even become a problem. This type of real-time monitoring would save a lot of rework time as deviations can be corrected before they become severe. By combining the real-time monitoring with real-time control, adjustments of the process can decrease the rework rate even further.

Illustration of Solution components

For this type of real-time control, very fast control loops are required – the sensor’s information needs to be processed and acted on in 1 millisecond or less. 5G connectivity and 5G edge cloud solutions can provide this low latency and enable the control loop.

“So what?”, you might be asking yourself now! What happened to the airplanes and the pollution? Just sit tight – we’ll get back to that momentarily. But first, let’s talk a little about the economic value – because there is a very interesting financial upside to all this!

By reducing the rework rate by a mere 10 percentage points, significant cost savings could be achieved in blisk manufacturing – in fact a typical blisk factory could save as much as EUR 27 million per year! Globally, this means an annual value potential of around EUR 360 million – just for current blisk production which is one significant metal processing process, but still only a fraction of total global metal processing.

So, what about the environment? Well, since the 5G connected real-time system not only decreases the rework rate, but also increases the overall quality level of the blisks, they will, once they are part of the jet engine, operate more efficiently. This means that the fuel consumption would be reduced, which in turn will lead to lower CO2e emissions. An estimated improved efficiency of 2 percent leads to a global reduction potential of 16 million tonne of CO2e emissions per year!

16 million tonne of CO2e – is that a lot? Well let’s put it another way – it is the same amount of CO2e emissions as 1.4 million Swedes emit annually, or to relate it to flying – it is the same as 4.4 million people flying from London to Bangkok! So, while 5G might not solve all our emission challenges, it will help save money and reduce our carbon footprint when flying!

As for me, I will continue to fly amongst the clouds, but from now on, I will mix the white fluffy clouds with some 5G edge dittos!

Want to know more about how next-generation technologies are transforming manufacturing? Find out more about the blisk case in the full Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab report.

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