Manufacturing is a wide and varied industry that includes everything from microbreweries to aerospace facilities and vehicle assembly lines. According to the World Bank, it accounts for roughly 16% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP): it is one of the foundations of our global economy.
Yet the industry is experiencing some serious challenges. Customers increasingly expect faster delivery and more customized products, which requires factories to support flexible production. That’s a tall order for many facilities that are operating with inflexible legacy equipment that cannot be easily moved and adapted to changing demands. Even more troubling is that, despite the general increase in automation, there has been a declining economic productivity trend in factories.
As a result, there is a seismic shift happening now in the manufacturing industry as it advances towards Industry 4.0: to achieve the next level of productivity, manufacturers are connecting equipment beyond the traditional means via the Internet, which brings with it several significant benefits. But smart manufacturing requires flexible automation. And that automation requires robust wireless connectivity, the catalyst for industry transformation.
1. AMR: The workhorse of smart factories
An AMR collects material once it is unloaded and stored, based on an order given through the cloud. It moves the material through the production environment to the stamping machine in the most efficient way possible.
When conducting quality inspections today, measuring systems are often inflexible and stationary. These inspections require a lot of time-consuming manual work. Hexagon and Ericsson have researched private cellular connectivity use cases and examined how 5G cellular technology can provide connectivity for AMRs to move efficiently around the production floor to conduct quality inspections.
To enable free movement of AMRs around the production environment to conduct inspections or move materials, the manufacturer will need to process and manage a large amount of data, as well as have highly reliable, low-latency connectivity that is secure and able to provide real-time data transfer. A private cellular network can provide this level of connectivity. With 5G, AMRs can move throughout the factory without any magnetic strips for guidance, and with 5G providing positional accuracy, robots can manoeuvre freely even in a facility with a high density of connected devices.
2. Asset Condition Monitoring
The stamping machine contains sensors that are wirelessly connected to a facility-wide asset condition monitoring system within the private network, so an alert will sound any time there’s an issue that requires the attention of maintenance. An AMR picks up the work-in-process (WIP) product, moving it through each operational step.
Asset condition monitoring can address problems by enabling predictive maintenance, which uses data collected by sensors to determine exactly when maintenance needs to be performed.
To implement asset condition monitoring, a facility needs to be able to efficiently process and manage data. Ericsson offers the necessary high reliability, high-speed, high throughput connectivity of a private network, vital for generating real-time data.
Meanwhile, some of the factory cobots will conduct drilling and assembly tasks, while others perform in-machine quality inspections, alerting personnel whenever a part or product is out of spec.
Hexagon’s research found that 22% of its customers said aligning parts is the most difficult step of running a measuring routine, and 55% said a more flexible measurement system could reduce the time they have to dedicate to inspection tasks. Just less than half (47%) said that the operator must watch the equipment during an inspection about one-third of the time. Additionally, customers today expect zero defects. To accomplish this goal, manufacturers must inspect 100% of the products they make – sample testing will not be sufficient – and that will increase the amount of testing they are required to do.
Cobots need to be flexible and easily move throughout the facility, so they can be rearranged for multiple purposes. “As a result, Cobots must connect wirelessly to the facility network, and a 5G-ready private cellular network can provide the reliable, low latency connection cobots require”. Even amidst hundreds or thousands of other connected devices, a private cellular network will still provide a fast, stable connection because it has been designed to support environments with a high device density.
4. Augmented Reality
Once the product is ready for final assembly and quality inspection, an AMR will move it to the last stage, where quality engineers will use AR glasses to inspect the final product to ensure it conforms to requirements. AR glasses are also used throughout the facility to assist with a wide variety of tasks, from offloading to troubleshooting and operator support.
Hexagon’s research found that one-quarter of quality technicians are expected to retire within the next five years, and 73% of organizations say it is difficult for their company to hire skilled labour. Already, more than a third (36%) of manufacturers surveyed said that comparing parts to spec, such as a CAD model, is difficult for them to do. Plus, they’re time-consuming – 48% of manufacturers said automated part identification and measurement would simplify the quality workflow.
The return on investment in AR in year five is 68% while payback is less than three years.
To enable AR within a manufacturing environment, the facility must be able to provide reliable, highly secure, high-throughput, real-time wireless data transfer to deal with the rich media and complex analysis required, especially as the AR glasses move with the employee throughout the floor. Additionally, wireless connectivity must provide extremely accurate positioning and the ability to handle a high density of connected devices anywhere in the factory. Private cellular networks meet all of these requirements.
5. Digital twin
And in the background, the digital twin is active throughout all steps of smart manufacturing: updating the virtual model and performing “what-if” analyses to further optimize operations.
Digital twins enable manufacturers to determine how best to streamline the production environment without physically changing any processes.
As with asset condition monitoring, effective use of the digital twin requires a massive amount of data to be processed and managed. This is due to it using 3D mapping sensors, video stream, lidar, and thermal stream, which generates large data volumes that need to be transferred in real-time.
Additionally, once the entire environment is connected, the connection density becomes very high. A private cellular network in smart manufacturing enables the real-time transfer of large data volumes thanks to its high bandwidth and continues to provide reliable connectivity even when there is a high density of connected devices. And because large amounts of critical factory data will be collected from facility devices, the private nature and ultra-high security that 5G enables are essential.
Read Ericsson’s report here.