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Future 5G ready flexible manufacturing at Atlas Copco Airpower

Atlas Copco Airpower is a world-leading manufacturer of compressors, vacuum solutions, generators, pumps, power tools and assembly systems. As an innovative manufacturer, efficient operations are essential and Atlas Copco is collaborating with Ericsson and Orange Belgium for future flexible manufacturing with 4G and 5G.

Head of Advanced Industries

Bird’s eye view of Atlas Copco Airpower flexible manufacturing factory in Belgium where they produce the world largest compressors.

Head of Advanced Industries

Head of Advanced Industries

One company that has embraced the potential for smart manufacturing is Atlas Copco. Already at an early stage and as a pioneer in the industry, Atlas Copco decided to initiate their digital transformation at one of their largest facilities in the world. Ericsson has been a partner in this digital journey in connecting the factory of the future.

The Atlas Copco Airpower factory in Wilrijk, Belgium is one of the world’s largest and most advanced manufacturing sites for both portable and stationary compressors. At the facility, compressors are designed, developed and produced for distribution around the world. 

Since spring 2019, Atlas Copco Airpower has been running the Ericsson Industry Connect network at its facility in Belgium and recently extended the deployment to connect the wider shop floor in 2020. Industry Connect is a pre-configured dedicated private cellular network for industrial sites such as factories and warehouses. Starting with 4G/LTE servicing the existing device ecosystem, it is a future-proof solution with a clear path to 5G.  

With 20,000 m² at the Airpower facility site, the private cellular network delivers secure, reliable and easy wireless connectivity to support and improve remote management and manufacturing productivity. Based on a co-creation model, Atlas Copco is working closely with Ericsson, the world leader in mobile communication and Orange Belgium, the local service provider delivering spectrum and device expertise. 

Smart and streamlined factory floor starts with stable connectivity 

Atlas Copco Airpower continuously strives to improve production and operation processes. To meet production efficiency targets, they are taking steps to transform their factory into a smart, connected, innovative factory floor for flexible manufacturing. 

The technology solution provides a dedicated 5G-ready cellular network enabling wireless communication to connect devices on the factory floor and remove unnecessary cables. By using the network, autonomous guided vehicles are controlled wirelessly with cameras and environmental monitoring sensors across the factory.  Portable tools, fixed tools and machinery can also be connected to the network. 

Atlas Copco finds that technology gives them the possibility to connect their machines wirelessly instead of the traditional way with cables. The really exciting use cases will come when they can make use of low latency. The case that wraps it all together for Atlas Copco is of course security. They can all do this in a secure environment. Wouter Ceulemans, President of the Airtec division at Atlas Copco, thinks that the factory of the future will be a lot more autonomous with a lot more automation and a lot more intelligence.


The ecosystem is expanding

Communication service providers have a key role in the ecosystem to enable and accelerate the adoption of cellular connectivity to meet the growing demand for mobile connectivity for industrial sites. Local capacity to install and serve cellular networks in combination with access to licensed spectrum make communication service providers critical partners to digitalize industries. In this project, partners Atlas Copco, Orange Belgium and Ericsson co-innovate together to break new ground and accelerate the transition to Industry 4.0.  

Orange Belgium guarantees secure mobile connectivity for the industry as manufacturers are requiring this kind of set up. Manufacturers need full availability of the system 24/7, and they want to have protection of data. Orange Belgium’s network enables this. Werner De Laet, Chief Enterprise Officer at Orange Belgium recognizes that together with the ecosystem partners, rolling out private mobile networks is a collaborative effort.

Atlas Copco, Ericsson and Orange team cutting a cable to kick off next phase of flexible manufacturing

Atlas Copco, Ericsson and Orange team cutting a cable to kick off next phase of smart wireless manufacturing.

The choice of connectivity determines value gains

Ericsson, along with device, application and system integrator partners, is building an extensive ecosystem to enable the industrial digital backbone with 4G and 5G connectivity. ABI Research found that the move to private cellular networks has the potential to boost gross margin by 5% to 13% for factory and warehouse operations that fully embrace Industry 4.0. It also predicts that there will be 4.3 billion wireless connections in smart factories by 2030. Most of these connected endpoints are entirely new—autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), cooperative robots (cobots), smart glasses, modern human-machine interface (HMI)/industrial Personal Computers (PCs), sensors, etc. which would benefit from cellular connectivity.  Atlas Copco has already made strides in their digital transformation journey and is a leading example for industrial actors in smart and flexible manufacturing.

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