In an era of intense volatility due to shorter business and product lifecycles, manufacturing companies around the globe are under extreme pressure. Margins are being squeezed more than ever as components increasingly become more varied and complex to produce, workforces are aging and becoming costlier to maintain.
Competitiveness is everything to manufacturers and much-needed gains in efficiency and profitability will have to be achieved through new process innovations. This includes, for example, the continued automation of robots and warehouse transportation and cutting cables to become truly flexible. 5G and IoT will be key to enhancing and enabling these advances in manufacturing.
5G networks offer manufacturers and telecom operators the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality for troubleshooting, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
With 5G, operators can create new revenue streams. Alongside energy and utility, manufacturing represents one of the most significant sectors for new revenue potential for operators addressing industry digitalization with 5G technologies. According to the Ericsson study The 5G Business Potential, the expected addressable market in 2026 will be USD 113 billion, a substantial 7 percent potential revenue growth from current service revenue forecasts.
The path to manufacturing
5G technologies provide the network characteristics essential for manufacturing. Low latency and high reliability are needed to support critical applications. High bandwidth and connection density secure ubiquitous connectivity. These are requirements that manufacturers currently rely on fixed-line networks. The mobile 5G technology will allow for higher flexibility, lower cost, and shorter lead times for factory floor production reconfiguration, layout changes, and alterations.
In our market research we have identified the most crucial manufacturing use case categories that 5G will enable operators to address. These include industrial control and automation systems, planning and design systems, and field devices.
Industrial control and automation systems
Automation and control of robots and factories and smart logistics systems.
Planning and design systems
Simulation of factory process and training support.
Applications to gather and monitor data.
Test cases designed from experience
Ericsson is at the forefront of 5G research and development. We have initiated partnerships with leading technology and manufacturing specialists in several countries. This enables us to develop 5G technologies based on real business needs. We are also ourselves a major manufacturer of advanced equipment. Ericsson factories around the world continuously test 5G-enabled technologies.
Data collection and analysis in real time
Ericsson is one of the driving forces behind the establishment of a Swedish government-supported collaboration with bearing manufacturing company SKF and Chalmers University of Technology, called the 5G Enabled Manufacturing (5GEM) project. Our mission was to use 5G networks and technology to facilitate simultaneous product customization and maximum production output – without sacrificing flexibility, traceability, sustainability, or safety. We did this by creating a network of connected machines that allow manufacturers to collect, analyze, and distribute data in real time. Enhancing connectivity and keeping workers continuously in the loop will enable manufacturers to acquire and access much larger amounts of data – at far greater speeds – more efficiently than ever before.
As a frontrunner in industrial digitalization research, Chalmers University of Technology coordinated the 5GEM project. Professor Johan Stahre outlines the reasoning behind the project and why 5G technology will have the power to transform manufacturing.
Augmented reality for troubleshooting
Ericsson’s Tallinn factory represents the first of its kind to use Augmented Reality for troubleshooting to help mitigate the cost of breakdowns – extra components, material, labor, and buffers – and reduce production downtime. We use AR to detect operational inefficiencies such as imperfect maintenance planning, failure diagnostics, but also for training. To date, we have achieved time savings of up to 50 percent.
The Connected Screwdriver
China Mobile and Ericsson are enabling automation by applying cellular IoT technology. Using connected tools such as screwdrivers, the world’s first cellular IoT-based trial first took place at Ericsson’s radio product manufacturing site in Nanjing. There are approximately 1,000 high-precision screwdrivers in the factory that require routine calibration and lubrication based on utilization times. Until now, this has been a manual procedure performed periodically and documented in handwritten logs. The high-precision tools were fitted with real-time motion sensors that were 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 will be able to replace manual tracking of tool usage data with an automated solution – cutting the amount of manual work by 50 percent. And since the cost per device is so low, the factory now plans to completely phase out manual tracking.
Opportunity to take on new roles
By using 5G to meet key challenges in digitalization for industries such as manufacturing, telecom operators can act as more than network developers, addressing new revenue streams by becoming service enablers and even service creators. Digitalization of industry-specific business processes creates a vast opportunity for telecom operators to offer their customers not only ICT services but also a new strategic direction using 5G technologies to enhance efficiency and competitiveness – laying the foundation for growth.
Evolving the network to address manufacturing use cases
In a constantly changing environment, telecom operators require the best technologies to support their business needs. The onset of 5G will enhance many existing use cases as well as create new use ones that cannot be fulfilled by current technologies. This, in turn, requires evolving the network to deliver low latency and high reliability that are key to addressing manufacturing use cases. The ongoing network evolution features the following developments:
- 5G NR – a new radio interface/access that extends far beyond those of previous generations of mobile communication. Capabilities include massive system capacity, very high data rates everywhere, very low latency, ultra-high reliability and availability, very low device cost and energy consumption, and energy-efficient networks;
- Network slicing –this enables operators to provide dedicated virtual networks with customer-specific functionality
- Distributed Cloud – this enables placing of workloads closer to the edge for better QoS such as latency;
- Realtime machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – analytics will be important in making the networks self-optimizing to secure SLA fulfillment for services.
The time to act is now. There’s no need to wait to start testing new business models, capture emerging opportunities such as IoT, and create additional revenue streams. LTE-based technologies such as CAT-M1/NB-IoT enable massive IoT use cases already in existing networks. By experimenting and rethinking what role to take, operators will be able to secure the benefits of 5G. Understanding your customers and different value chains in 5G will be imperative for building your future business.