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The world’s first trial of cellular IoT-based “connected factory”

Radio product manufacturer Ericsson Panda Communication is using NB-IoT over cellular networks to automate processes with great results.

The challenge

An independent subsidiary of Ericsson located in Nanjing, China, Ericsson Panda Communication runs Ericsson's largest factory site. With more than 2,000 employees on staff, the plant manufactures radio equipment hardware used around the world.

There are approximately 1,000 high-precision screwdrivers in the factory that require routine calibration and lubrication based on utilization times. This maintenance was a manual procedure performed periodically and documented in hand-written logs. In late 2015, Ericsson Panda Communication began exploring wireless technologies as a means to streamline these processes.

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Solution highlights

Ericsson's RBS6000 multimode base station operated with pre-commercial software

China Mobile's Software Development Kit (SDK) & OneNet IoT Cloud platform

The Intel® XMM™ 7115, a modem embedded in Fibocom's module

Cellular connectivity provided by China Mobile Jiangsu

Motion sensors from ADI

The solution

Ericsson Panda Communication was interested in Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) applications based on the 3GPP standard. LPWA is a relatively low-cost solution with low data-usage rates, extended coverage and long battery lives.
Together with China Mobile, the biggest operator in China, Ericsson Panda decided to conduct the world's first trial of cellular IoT in a factory setting.

The high-precision screwdrivers were fitted with real-time motion sensors attached to NB-IoT modules. The data runs via a cellular IoT network over the company's private cloud and back-end systems, which make automatic calculations and intelligent analyses of the collected data.

With connected screwdrivers, the factory was able to replace manual tracking of tool usage data with an automated solution. By capturing the data that streams from motion sensors, the tools' utilization and condition status are now easily monitored. The cloud-based product manufacturing quality-monitoring system also indicates when certain thresholds are reached, which extends the service life of these expensive screwdrivers considerably.

Key benefits

No cabling

10-year battery life

7x improved coverage (20dB improvement)

Low-cost IoT module

Production quality secured

Extended tool service life

Reduced maintenance staff

“By connecting our high-precision screwdrivers, we will see a 210% return on investment in year one. And, breakeven is reached in less than 6 months”

- Tomas Qvist, President, Nanjing Ericsson Panda Communication 

The result

By capturing data from the motion sensors, the utilization and condition status of the tools are now easily monitored. As the solution cost per device is only around $10 US, the factory now plans to completely phase out manual tracking. Improved detection of human errors is projected to reduce maintenance material expenses by $1,000 US each year.

Manual maintenance work will be cut in half, saving $20,000 US annually. The cloud-based quality-monitoring system indicates when certain thresholds are reached, considerably extending the service life of these expensive screwdrivers, which cost around $1,500 US each.

This trial has demonstrated that the combination of LPWA applications, NB-IoT and cellular networks are a cost-effective recipe for success with Industrial IoT. By automating and streamlining production, Ericsson Panda Communication has found the benefits of massive IoT are worth investing in.

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