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5 factory technologies to look out for in 2022

Which new technologies will we see on factory floors in 2022 and beyond? We head to Ericsson’s smart factory in Lewisville, Texas, to explore five of the most future looking.

Head of Industry 4.0

5 factory technologies to look out for in 2022

Head of Industry 4.0

Head of Industry 4.0

Smart factories are no longer the future. They are the present. In 2018, when the World Economic Forum (WEF) first began its global lighthouse network, there were just 16 flagship smart factories around the world. Today, four years later, the number of flagship industrial factories is 103.

What’s even more striking than numbers, however, is the growing catalogue of intelligence-driven, efficiency-boosting and robot-friendly technologies that are spreading further across the value chain. These technologies are getting traction in sectors as far and wide as consumer packaged goods, process industries, pharmaceutical products, and advanced industries including electronics, industrial machinery and automotive.

It’s a step change being spurred by two things:

  • a technology ecosystem that is growing hungrier by the day
  • an enterprise demand to connect to private cellular networks that offer never-before-seen speed, scale and resilience

 

So how do those smart factories use cases look today? And which do we expect to take off across shop floors in 2022 and beyond? Ericsson’s USA 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas, is using next-generation technologies to drive sustainable and efficient production. It’s also a place where you can find the latest factory technologies powered by a combination of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and other digital technologies. So where better to find out?

Here are five of our most future-looking factory technologies from Ericsson's USA 5G Smart Factory:

The WEF Global Lighthouse Network

In 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) introduced the world’s first ’Global Lighthouse Network’, a new collaborative network that recognized, encouraged, and accelerated digital transformation of manufacturing based on new Industry 4.0 wireless possibilities. In 2021, this network grew to include the world’s first eco-efficient ‘Sustainability Lighthouses’ – recognizing pioneers of eco-efficiency. Ericsson’s 5G Smart Factory in Texas, US, was named as a founding lighthouse in that network. 

 

1. Hybrid collaboration

One trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic has been remote collaboration of workforces, opening new possibilities for closer, virtual collaboration and co-creation across different geographies.

Today, the combination of high-performance private cellular networks together with digital technologies such as extended reality, AI and digital twins is providing opportunities for enterprises to create virtual working spaces for effective collaboration across the value chain. With digital twin technology, such as that trialed by Ericsson in Livorno, Italy, manufacturing enterprises can create a cloud-based factory digital twin of their production site, for example, and experiment with live shop floor data to create new novel ways of working.

In Lewisville, Ericsson is using augmented reality (AR) to solve operational challenges such as onboarding and factory maintenance. By connecting their workforces in real time across their many facilities worldwide, the teams have found a simple yet effective way to onboard its personnel faster and with fewer transport emissions, as well as conduct remote, virtual maintenance support.

2. Machine-learning-based visual inspection

For factory operations, machine failure is a costly expense, especially if it leads to prolonged operational downtime. Traditional visual inspection of factory assets can be time consuming and even lead to an error rate as high as 30 percent.

A much leaner and less risky alternative is machine-learning-based visual inspection, now possible thanks to a combination of private cellular networks, machine learning (ML) and AR technologies.

In Lewisville, teams are exploring how high-resolution cameras connected to a private cellular network could enable a much leaner and more accurate inspection of factory assets, in this instance the board inspection in the factory’s production area.

Factory technologies deployed across today’s production facilities with corresponding 5-year forecasts

Above: Factory technologies deployed across today’s production facilities with corresponding 5-year forecasts (source: Ericsson Industry Lab)

3. Autonomous mobile robots

The rise of cellular networks within factory spaces is creating a new wave of momentum across autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technology markets. Shortlisted as one of the key efficiency-driving factory technologies to look out for in Ericsson’s recent future enterprise report, AMRs combine powerful AI technologies with 5G’s ability to provide low latency, real-time data transfer to enable free movement of AMRs around the production environment and open new possibilities for intelligent production chain automation, with use cases ranging from conducting inspections to moving materials.

Ericsson recently made headlines by showcasing the first industrial use case of Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) Safe Crossing together with Turkcell and Milvus Robotics. These small steps look set to signal a giant leap for the future of AMR deployments across factories worldwide.

In Lewisville, factory teams are even equipping AMRs with 5G modems to eliminate connectivity lag caused by WiFi handover points, a common problem in many other of today’s wireless factory settings. 

With serious strides afoot, the ongoing advancement of the AMR market could be about to shake up the evolution of shop floors for years to come.

4. Eco-efficient Internet of Things

Environmental responsibility is now higher than ever on the list of business priorities for today’s industrial enterprises. One critical technology which is proving invaluable to realizing both ambitious sustainability goals and important business KPIs is the Internet of Things.

In Lewisville, factory operators are using vast amounts of real-time data collected through a network of hundreds of sensors connected via the factory’s private cellular network to improve efficiency gains and reduce the factory’s energy consumption (by as much as 5 percent).

With sensors in place, factory operators have targeted various energy-saving measures, such as turning off lights and heat in vacant spaces and using water reclamation for recyclable energy, as well as others. As more factory assets connect, more energy is saved – making the system fully future-proof.

5. The end-to-end digital thread

 The turbulence faced by many enterprises in recent years, not least of all manufacturing enterprises, has hammered home the importance of having an efficient and sustainable value chain. One solution which can and is helping many enterprises to bolster that resilience today is data.

Today, most connected enterprises have access to vast amounts of operational data. The only problem is that many don’t know exactly what to do with it. In Lewisville, factory operators are collecting and using real-time product data, such as the components and machines used throughout production, to find new efficiencies and sustainability opportunities across the value chain.

And it’s not just the value chain where data can play the safeguard; today, it is also being deployed with great effect to improve employee health and safety. In 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic slowed and even halted operations at many of the world’s production facilities, operators in Lewisville found a way to avert the same disaster all based on data. How? They borrowed the exact same digital thread concept used on other assets, but this time put their employees in focus. This meant that factory operators could warn employees if they were getting too close or had been in contact with someone who had reported a symptom. This shows that, when combined with creativity and agility, data is a currency which can really transform factory operations in more ways than one.

Check out the latest from Hannover Messe 2022

In these times of unprecedented change, enterprises across industry sectors must be more flexible, adaptable and operate more seamlessly than ever before. Combined with technological advancements in private networks, IoT, edge computing and AI/ML, 5G is the enabling force which is making the next era of industry possible.

Check out the latest from Hannover Messe 2022 to experience the latest 5G technologies, cellular network solutions and most demanding industry use cases.

Which use cases should you implement first in your smart factory?

Join us at 2:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 9, 2022 to learn how Ericsson’s smart factory team approached this very question when building their own facility in Lewisville, Texas, powered by a private 5G network. Topics discussed will include the ‘build vs buy’ decision-making process, vendor selection and the agile work methods that enabled 15 successful initial implementations.

Register now


Learn more

Explore how Ericsson is making the next age of manufacturing possible.

Find out more about Ericsson’s 5G smart factory in Lewisville, Texas.

Take a look into the future of production in Ericsson IndustryLab’s future enterprise report.

Find out how much going digital can benefit your factory operations with Ericsson’s Connected Manufacturing Value Calculator.

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