Our smart factory of the future: let me show you around
How do you define a smart factory of the future? Do you think of robots, cobots, and smooth, shiny surfaces? Perhaps it’s completely human-less, operated through 5G by a manager from afar, maybe even from a different country?
Whatever comes to mind, there’s an aspect of the factory of the future that we need to consider before preparing for the robots to move in. And that’s how sustainability and corporate responsibility is incorporated into the factory. These factors are just as important. In fact, they’re foundational.
Building a better future
It was amazing to see the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on January 20, 2021. As the world’s largest economy and a global leader in innovation, America is uniquely positioned to leverage its position and lead the global transition towards a net zero future .
Today, the industrial sector is responsible for 32 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and the demand for industrial goods is only expected to increase by 2030  At the same time, the industrial sector needs to reduce GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030 if it’s to achieve the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Essentially, big business and industry must change if it’s to thrive over the long term. There are no more excuses. We have the capabilities to implement innovative ICT solutions to increase production efficiency, reduce resource consumption and adopt renewable energy. And this is exactly what we’ve done at our 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas.
This is Ericsson’s first fully-automated smart factory in the world, producing Advanced Antenna Systems radios that enable large-scale deployments in 4G and 5G mobile networks. Not only does it reflect our goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, but it showcases how manufacturing can transition to a low carbon future while meeting key business objectives.
Let the tour begin
You’ll be a relatively new visitor to our site, which only opened in February 2020, a mere 8 months after the initial announcement to build this fully-automated smart factory in June 2019. As we pull up, you’ll notice a few differences pretty quickly. First are our 1,646 solar panels, which produce electricity from direct, as well as reflected light from the ground. This means they’re 30 percent more efficient than regular solar panels. All in all, the onsite solar panels produce 1,030 MWh of renewable energy, providing 17 percent of the factory’s power requirement.
One of the key challenges of building the factory was designing solutions that were in line with the hot climate of Texas. That’s one of the reasons we installed our 40,000 gallon, or 151,415 liter rain water tanks – so that nothing gets wasted when the rain arrives. In fact, these tanks along with high efficiency water fixtures means we use 75 percent less water than an equivalent building.
To reduce power consumption at the Smart Factory during peak hours of the day, Ericsson has installed thermal ice storage tanks, where we produce ice during the night, when electricity is cheap and there’s less demand on the grid. We then use this ice to cool the factory during the day, so we don’t need to use so much power from the grid during peak times.
Our commitment to climate action and sustainability has been integrated into every aspect of this factory, right from day one. Close by, you’ll find no-cost charging points for our employees’ electric cars, to ensure their commute to work can be carbon neutral as well. Also note that 98 percent of the factory’s construction debris was recycled and diverted from landfill. We’re also pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold and LEED Zero Carbon certification for the factory. These are globally recognized certification standards in sustainability design, and ensure that certain sustainability benchmarks are met. This is the first Ericsson factory to achieve this, and it means we’re well on the way to becoming 24 percent more energy efficient than an equivalent factory.
Now, let’s head inside…
Connectivity: Agility by design
Here, everything is connected. Our secure 5G connectivity enables agile operations and flexible production. This is achieved through automated capabilities, connected logistics, automated assembly, packing and product handling, and the use of autonomous carts, to name just a few competencies under this 28,000 square meter roof (which is equal to 143 singles tennis courts).
As we walk around the factory, you might spot some autonomous drones doing the rounds and making sure everything is in order. Surveillance in factories is crucial, and drones are the perfect solution for continuously keeping an eye on what’s happening on such a large site. They respond to alarms, transmit video, land and charge completely autonomously, ensuring the site is secure day and night.
Here, there’s no need to have expertise on site all the time – it can be costly to keep maintenance experts on the factory floor 24/7, after all. Instead, if any maintenance needs carrying out, we use our Augmented Reality (AR) headsets to connect with an offsite expert. Onsite teams can receive step-by-step virtual guidance. This reduces costs significantly and increases equipment uptime.
Speaking of our teams, they’ve been a close part of this process too. We’re dedicated to taking an active role in shaping the careers of the future and providing the right training that’s needed as Industry 4.0 develops. In fact, nearly all the initial training carried out with our teams was done 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.
Our priority is to focus on building careers with our employees, and to use robots to do the manual labor, which usually accounts for somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of conventional factory activities. For example, we’ve completely automated our unpacking process. Our robots identify and move materials from one area to another – using specific locations and orientations – so they can eventually be delivered to automated factory lines. As a result, we’ve decreased this ‘kitting’ process by 50 percent, which means our employees can focus their efforts on the business, or training, rather than on manual work.
Although we may have a lot of innovation under this roof, it’s important to remember that we’re not implementing all this technology for the sake of it, or to be ahead of the technology curve. We’re doing it because we believe that harnessing the power of connectivity is a clear way for industries to decarbonize.
Enabling climate action
Ericsson has been a key player in the development of the Exponential Roadmap, which provides clear steps and solutions for all sectors of our economy to decarbonize. It aligns with the Paris Agreement to achieve the goal of halving global emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions before 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5º C.
In it, we reveal that the digital sector has only a 1.4 percent global carbon footprint, but has the potential to enable a 15 percent global greenhouse gas reduction in sectors such as energy, industry and transport . Connectivity can help us achieve this, and it’s through the technology implemented in this smart factory that we can showcase the best of Industrial IoT (IIoT) and unlock a new chapter for industries, that’s both good for business, and good for the environment.
It means AI and machine learning have a key role in factory operations, using data and analytics to implement capabilities like energy and environmental monitoring within the factory. And with everything connected, performance management can be much more flexible and controllable. The possibility to take proactive, ongoing corrective action ensures that the factory is run as efficiently as possible, helping us keep costs and energy use low.
5G smart factories are the future of industry – and business
So, why are smart factories the future of industry? For me, there are three key initiatives for big business to transform their sites into smart factories.
First, they’ll enable companies to achieve their carbon neutrality goals. Our customers, and society as a whole, now expect big business to set goals that align with climate science. It’s something that cannot be ignored, and could even be detrimental to business if companies don’t consider their carbon footprint. For example, many of our customers have already made carbon neutral commitments, and it’s important for them to work with a partner with similar values and goals. It’s also clear that the opportunities are there. The global economic benefit of a low-carbon future is estimated to be USD26 trillion by 2030 .
Second, connectivity is a key enabler for a low carbon future and a low-carbon economy. We’ve already seen the benefits of digitalization this year. Fewer commutes to the office, and more flexible work. In fact, digital technology can cut business flights by 50 percent. It has a huge impact. On a bigger scale, capabilities like IoT and machine learning means we can optimize existing physical infrastructure, and therefore reduce the need for more, or bigger infrastructure in the future.
Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, sites like a 5G smart factory can be part of a wider effort to close the digital divide, and take an active role in creating the jobs of the future. Today, there’s a significant shortage of STEM professionals (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and a lack of people with the right skills to fill the jobs that’ll be needed as part of the digital transformation of industries.
Here in the US, we’ve seen many manufacturing jobs move overseas. If we’re able to have facilities that are automated, we’re able to concentrate more on the right training and learning opportunities that prepare our teams for the future.
We’re working closely with partners across the globe to promote STEM careers. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see, right? In addition, we’ve been working with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and have also partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers and Black Girls Code to develop interest and support gender equality and diversity in the workplace. If we’re able to get out there and show a younger population what we’re doing, hopefully it will inspire more people to get involved in STEM and the kind of work that Industry 4.0 will bring with it.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the insights in to life here at our 5G smart factory. As you can tell, it’s much more than the robots would have you believe. We might be the new kid in town here in Lewisville, but hopefully we can showcase the best of sustainable design and smart manufacturing for a long time to come.
Read more about the USA 5G Smart Factory.
Find out how Ericsson is working with climate action.
Explore how we’re working with Industry 4.0.
Read the Exponential Climate Roadmap.
Read President and CEO Börje Ekholm’s blog post on 4 ways for companies to take effective climate action.
Changes, challenges and success - sustaining competitive advantage with IIoT.
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