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Industry 4.0 can be a game changer for climate action

The world’s largest innovation platform, made from disruptive 5G technologies, offers us a lifeline to radically transform our approach to profits and the planet. Let’s look at how.

connected containers in logistics and supply chain
Erik Josefsson 

Head of Advanced Industries

Category, topic & hashtags

By 2024, 5G is expected to provide network coverage for up to 65 percent of the world’s population. LTE is forecast to cover up to 90 percent.

This ever-expanding platform of mobile connectivity, together with the emergence of 5G-enabled cyber-physical systems and advanced cellular IoT, is laying the foundation for the fourth industrial revolution. Over the coming years, this will overhaul the very way our industries are wired. It will transform existing business structures and provide a basis for disruptive new business.

Yet, amid all the talk of profitability and new business, there is another fundamental benefit which digital technologies deliver. Deployed at scale, they present us with a game changing opportunity for  Sustainable Development Goal 13. Climate Action,

Industry 4.0 arrives in time for the most critical decade for climate action in our history. To reiterate the high stakes, scientists recently reminded us that humankind could face an existential risk by as early as 2050 if we don’t act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need change which is fast and far-reaching. With Industry 4.0, we have an opportunity to enact that change at scale.

IoT, as an enabling technology, will drive an increase in industrial efficiency and help us to better measure our climate impact. Leveraged in the right way, digital technologies can accelerate the reduction of global emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030, while being responsible for only 1.4% of global emissions.

What are we doing today to bring about this step change? Below, I bring you three examples of energy-efficient industry in the era of digitalization.

Smart manufacturing

We begin in Tallinn, at Ericsson’s 5G smart factory. Here, we’re leveraging the value of wireless IoT with Augmented Reality (AR) and machine learning to increase overall efficiency and quality in manufacturing.

In our recent sustainability impact analysis, we found several correlations between these technologies and their impact on climate action and wider sustainability issues. This ranges from traceability, worker safety, and a shift in professional skills, to the overall reduction in energy consumption, transportation and use of natural resources.

Better connectivity with 5G will make the onboarding of IoT much easier. This will make our industries exponentially more measurable, trackable and smarter in executing decisions. Then, of course, there are the benefits brought by increasingly resilient networks and adaptable processes on the factory floor.

One exciting technology concept we’re deploying on our factory floor is the application of remote experts.  Based on augmented reality technologies, an expert based anywhere in the world can troubleshoot and communicate remotely with an on-site technician. In this case, we’re using it for circuit boards, however this flexible use case can be deployed in almost every industry worldwide. As well as reducing our overall fault detection time and increasing efficiency, it also has a much broader impact on the carbon footprint.  This, coupled with a network of predictive maintenance sensors, is making manufacturing increasingly leaner, more efficient and safer as we journey deeper into Industry 4.0.

Through wireless IoT, we’re also pioneering new ways to regulate temperatures on the factory floor – resulting in reduced CO2 emissions and up to 20 percent lower heating costs. While this may not be the biggest contribution to our overall manufacturing emissions, it’s just one step on a journey toward increasingly energy-efficient forms of 5G manufacturing.

Smart logistics

Yesterday’s mass production is transforming into mass customization. Products are being produced uniquely for us, additive manufacturing with 3D can reduce time-to-market and make manufacturing more localized. If we leverage this the right way, this can have a significant impact on the wider environmental impact and limit cross-continent shipping.

As warehousing hubs continue to grow in numbers, Autonomous Electric Transportation powered by 5G can be a key enabler in reducing transport emissions. Last year, we helped to showcase one of the first low-carbon self-driving vehicle together with Einride, Telia and DB Schenker. Operated remotely through 5G networks, this challenges older manual, wasteful and inefficient forms of intralogistics. In this use case, Einride estimates that the potential CO2 reduction per pallet of freight when transitioning from diesel to electricity can be up to 90% for countries with a low-carbon electricity mix such as the Swedish electricity mix. It will also reduce emissions of harmful NOx and ultrafine soot particles.

Smart mining

Mining is another sector which will be highly impacted by digital transformation over the coming years, enabled by CO2-reducing electrification technologies and low-latency wireless communication.

This change will be spearheaded by increasing levels of mining automation to increase efficiency and improve safety for workers. Here, remote control and haptic feedback over 5G can start to be used to control heavy machinery. This can potentially save lives and make mining more sustainable.

Ericsson has done a lot of research with leading mining companies, such as the PIMM Digitalized Mining Arena, where private sector companies come together to explore how emerging technologies can be leveraged for greater efficiency and reduced environmental footprints across the industry. For example, this year we helped the mining solution company Ambra to connect over 90 km of tunneling through a radio network. This helped to replace over 60 access points of Wi-Fi. This has since helped to improve safety and mining operations, as well as deliver several IoT use cases including automation of ventilation systems, real-time personnel and vehicle tracking, and remote-controlled machinery.

The next steps on our industrial journey

The world’s industries are fast approaching a tipping point. The step change in digital technologies is opening new opportunities on the market and changing how we do business. If we choose to leverage these new technologies in the right way, we can have an exponential impact on the reduction of emissions. We can also significantly impact the sustainability of our societies and economies, by creating new business models and improving safety, inclusivity and affordability as well as sustainable growth for all involved stakeholders in the value chain.

At Ericsson Advanced Industries, we’re bringing this perspective to wider industry. We’re driving partnerships with key industries to provide effective solutions and tools to tackle climate change and wider sustainability goals, making a difference across sectors. We’re helping the world’s industries to develop resilient infrastructure, and promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization. In doing so, we’re making a significant contribution to the UN’s ninth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 9) – industries, innovation and infrastructure.

Further reading

The Exponential Roadmap project is a collaboration of technology innovators, scientists, private enterprise and non -governmental organizations. It outlines the global economic transformation required by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement on climate. The roadmap shows the trajectory for how climate leadership, stronger policies and exponential technology can enable emission reductions across all sectors and industries.

Find out more about how we work with sustainability at Ericsson.

Read more about the industry impact of 5G.

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