Industry 4.0: 5 ways in which private 5G will drive the next manufacturing revolution

Ericsson forecasts the use cases that will be the catalyst behind making private 5G cellular networks a key part of business evolution.

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Ericsson has published a report on the state of the Industry 4.0 transformation, making the argument that private 5G cellular networks will be a fundamental part of the rise of smart manufacturing.

To make its point, Ericsson cites five use cases for private 5G networks along with tips for deploying them and reasons businesses may want to consider private 5G in their organization.

Forrester predicted that private 5G networks would proliferate in 2021, and that companies like Ericsson would be leading the charge. Several of the use cases cited by Forrester are also part of Ericsson’s five use cases as well.

Autonomous mobile robots to handle warehouse tasks

Ericsson calls autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) “the workhorse of smart factories” because of how much they’re already capable of doing. AMRs have replaced forklifts and freed up drivers, reduced downtime, and even eliminated rework and inspection costs in Ericsson’s study. 

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“With 5G, AMRs can move throughout the factory without any magnetic strips for guidance, and with 5G providing positional accuracy, robots can maneuver freely even in a facility with a high density of connected devices,” Ericsson said. 

Collaborative robots to aid human workers

Collaborative robots, or “Cobots,” work side-by-side with humans to perform tasks like assembly, operational work, and automated inspections. Cobots have to be easily moved and flexible in their tasks, which requires low-latency networking that has only become reality with the advent of 5G. 

Cobots also reduce risk and waste, help make more efficient use of labor resources, reduce quality issues, and generally make repetitive, concentration-intense tasks the responsibility of a machine instead of a human.

Augmented reality for inspections

Augmented reality (AR) headsets operating on a private 5G network could revolutionize quality control, Ericsson said, because of all the information that would be instantly available to inspectors while on the job. 

“AR can make an enormous difference in quality inspections, providing human inspectors with visualizations that significantly decrease the potential for human error and reduce the amount of time spent in uncomfortable positions, moving back and forth between the equipment and a manual or screen,” Ericsson said. 

The report also cites the value of AR for support purposes: Technicians and maintenance can instantly see what’s happening and provide remote support, reducing the cost of service trips. 

Asset condition monitoring for self-monitoring machines

Ericsson found that manufacturers with connected hardware reduced their need for spare parts by 10%, and it’s easy to see why: Machines can monitor their conditions and report problems before they become serious. 

The study also finds huge ROIs on asset condition monitoring, along with large decreases in downtime, reduced material costs, and more efficient use of labor resources.

Digital twinning to maximize efficiency

Digital twinning is a process that reproduces a virtual model of a company’s entire manufacturing process. In that virtual model engineers can make tweaks and adjustments to see what happens when things are changed. 

Don’t assume that this is like a simulation game at home: Getting an accurate digital twin requires a massive amount of data to be sent, received, and managed, making a private 5G network a key part of the process. 

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Ericsson predicts that all of the use cases it describes would pay for themselves in three to five years, but the key is their cooperative nature: When combined, all five will provide a positive ROI within two years, it says. 

To further entice business leaders, Ericsson said that there’s more than just financial benefits:  “Smart manufacturing creates a substantial triple bottom line that includes improved safety for workers and a more responsible environmental impact through reduced scrap and emissions.”

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