Fifth generation mobile networking is set to transform several industries, none more so than manufacturing. According to a study by Ericsson, the 5G business potential for the sector in 2026 is some $113 billion. But how exactly will the new network ignite the fourth industrial revolution?
1 More flexibility with wireless factories
Network-connected machines can do more than so-called dumb ones. However, manufacturers typically use ethernet and wifi, and progressively 4G LTE, to connect factory devices.
But with 5G, operators can power their entire facility, on and off-premises, seamlessly with one network for near-wireless operations and quicker adoption of new technologies.
“A robot can come with an inbuilt SIM that is easily connected to the 5G network, so operators can plug and play, as opposed to establishing a new network for it, which creates barriers to adoption,” says Guido Jouret, chief digital officer at ABB. “A factory with good wireless connectivity can produce more because robots can work 24/7.”
Wireless machines can also roam more freely, increasing flexibility and productivity. And with the low latency provided by 5G, around 10 milliseconds and eventually 1 millisecond compared with 20 to 30 milliseconds with 4G, they can be monitored in real time by the human in the loop.
Furthermore, adoption of 5G for manufacturing will move function normally located inside the robot to a central computer via distributed cloud or edge computing.
“This reduces cabling costs and increases flexibility as machinery can be reprogrammed and moved around easier; manufacturing needs to be adaptable to cater for increasing demand for more personalised products,” says Mats Norin, programme manager at 5G For Industries, Ericsson Research.
For manufacturers, productivity gains equal cost-savings. The 5G network allows for up to one million sensors per square kilometre, as well as ultra-low latency, which can provide operators with real or near-time data from sensor-equipped devices to improve productivity.
Using 5G-enabled technologies for increased data capture, MTU Aero Engines, a company that produces bladed disks for engines, working with Ericsson and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology, managed to reduce its process design phase by 75 per cent.
Additionally, the real-time monitoring provided by 5G’s low latency enables the company to improve monitoring of the manufacturing process to avoid errors; within milliseconds operators know when they need to change machine parameters or risk having to reconfigure the part. According to Ericsson, this case study alone could create annual savings of approximately €27 million for a single factory.
In fact, the more complicated the factory process, the more of it can be automated for bigger savings.
“The more parts that need to be transported, the more production steps and vendors, the more distributed the set-up is, the higher the benefits from 5G industrial digitisation,” says Bela Virag, managing partner at technology management consultancy Arthur D. Little.