TECHNOLOGY

Connected Manufacturing – How To Improve Manufacturing Efficiency With Private Cellular Technology

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High-performance private cellular networks leveraging advanced 4G and 5G capabilities are bringing new efficiencies and benefits to manufacturing. For its latest report, Ericsson worked with its Industry 4.0 partner, Hexagon, to research and identify the most relevant, mature examples of smart manufacturing. The resulting five use cases show how companies can rise above challenges and improve manufacturing efficiency, increase productivity, reduce maintenance and ultimately improve ROI, writes TAIMUR LODHI.

What do circuit boards, airplanes and sports cars have in common? They’re made by manufacturers, a category that encompasses everything from electronics to aerospace and vehicle assembly lines. According to the World Bank, this group plays a significant role in the global economy, accounting for nearly 16 per cent of the planet’s gross domestic product (GDP) alone.

Yet, right now, the industry isn’t keeping pace and obstacles are holding back improvements in manufacturing efficiency.

Customers expect faster delivery and more customization. This requires flexible production, a tall order for facilities with legacy equipment that isn’t easily moved or adapted. Also, past investments in automation have maxed out and worker productivity is in decline. To up their game, manufacturers are connecting equipment to the Internet, which offers benefits but increases the risk of cyberattacks. And, of course, there’s COVID-19, which has greatly disrupted supply chains and manufacturing productivity.

Private cellular networks – deployed on-premise for a manufacturer’s own use – are increasingly playing a critical role in overcoming challenges. With 4G and particularly 5G capabilities, they can provide high-speed wireless connectivity, low latency and reliable performance in environments with high device density. From shop floors to loading docks, digitized, connected assets can further enhance automation and offer actionable insight.

It’s all part of smart manufacturing, and according to a 2019 survey from Deloitte, such initiatives can lead to 10-12 per cent gains in productivity, output and utilization.

To help guide manufacturers, we’ve compiled a report, “Connected Manufacturing – A guide to Industry 4.0 transformation with private cellular technology”. In it, we look at and address obstacles and options with expert insight. While there’s many potential smart manufacturing applications, we used criteria from real-world work to develop use case examples that illustrate how best to tackle smart manufacturing and improve manufacturing efficiency.

Smart connections

In Deloitte’s survey, a vast majority of execs (86%) said they believed smart manufacturing initiatives will drive competitiveness over the next five years. Manufacturers who want to raise productivity will need to increase automation. And to meet demand for more customization, they’ll need flexible automation, which requires robust wireless connectivity.

Smart manufacturing encompasses a range of applications – product concept and design through to production, optimization and quality assurance – and every stage of the process must be connected and digitally accessible. Augmented reality can significantly enhance training and worker support on the job. Advanced monitoring and tracking connects operational intelligence and asset condition monitoring to increase efficiency, lower costs and minimize downtime. Real-time hazard and maintenance sensing can ensure product quality remains high and the environment is optimized for peak efficiency.

All of this requires private wireless connectivity as cabling makes rapid reconfiguration of a facility difficult and mobility nearly impossible. For example, wireless can provide high-speed connectivity to autonomous robots and other assets as they move throughout the production floor. It can also provide location data for asset tracking and is particularly useful for connected equipment that is difficult to reach and wire.

That said, manufacturers must first choose what type of wireless connectivity best meets their needs; there are many options and pitfalls to avoid. For instance, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi are a possibility but their short range won’t provide the scale to cover a sizable factory floor. Unlicensed spectrum can be used by anyone, and it’s inexpensive, but low availability impacts performance and it suffers from short range limitations, too.

We place emphasis on licensed spectrum enabled through a private cellular network because it best addresses the needs of smart manufacturing. It provides better reliability, improved performance and much broader coverage than unlicensed spectrum. In particular, a 5G-ready private cellular network is an ideal choice for this vital connectivity due to its low latency, strong security and high speed throughput.

Cases in point

As part of our new report, Ericsson worked with its strategic Industry 4.0 partner, Hexagon, to research and identify the most relevant and mature examples for implementing smart manufacturing.

The use cases examined include:

  • Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) for real-time production chain automation
  • Collaborative robots (Cobots) for more efficient operations
  • Augmented reality (AR) for efficient quality inspections
  • Asset condition monitoring for increased uptime
  • Digital twin for optimized operations

When analyzing these, all were applied to the same baseline example using real-world criteria: a mid-sized, tier-1 manufacturing facility in Western Europe. The factory is an automotive supplier, mainly conducting stamping and assembly operations. It has US$100million in revenue, around 500 employees and a gross profit of 10 per cent.

The report estimates the yearly steady state net value would reach US$6million for the baseline factory in year five. All five use cases would pay for themselves in three to five years, and if deployed together, complete payback would be achieved in just two years. AMRs can justify the initial investment in a private cellular network, which would then be able to provide connectivity for the other four use cases.

Where to start?

Whether it’s for making circuit boards or building a new jet engine, the ability to pay back investments in three to five year makes a great case for companies wanting to improve efficiency with smart manufacturing.

Yet, achieving such results requires the fast, reliable, secure connectivity only a 5G-ready private cellular network can provide. So where do you start? Read the report “Connected manufacturing” and check out the smart manufacturing value calculator, to see the required costs and ROI for your own factory.

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