Enabling the factory of the future with 5G

Posted on 3 Feb 2022 by Lanna Deamer

At a recent Directors' Forum hosted by The Manufacturer, Ericsson’s Björn Odenhammar and Duncan Hawkins were joined by representatives from leading manufacturing organisations to discuss how the manufacturing industry can enable the factory of the future with the help of 5G.

It is clear that Ericsson is putting in the effort to decrease the complexity of a 5G network to make the technology accessible for factories. Speaking at the Directors’ Forum, Odenhammar explained: “This will give factories an easy way to deploy 5G to have a flexible, secure and high performing infrastructure on which to build smart manufacturing solutions.

“Ericsson’s high performance private cellular networks give enterprises the secure and scalable foundation to digitalise their operations, all backed by our global mobile market leadership. Dedicated networks connect industrial facilities with reliable, secure cellular networks.”

Ericsson orchestrates a value adding Industry 4.0 partner ecosystem by bringing a one-stop-shop for devices, applications, advisory services, SIs and telecom CSPs to build the smart facility. The company is also providing a value calculator to manufacturers that will show tangible cost savings of adopting cellular technology in their factories.

Smart manufacturing is fully supported by Ericsson within its global supply chain and with Ericsson Smart Factories. The company is focusing on smart and flexible automation by leveraging Industry 4.0 capabilities in use cases and with 5G enabled full connection and real-time digitalisation.

Ericsson technology is already powering hundreds of 5G networks all around the world. Hawkins highlighted: “The interest in 5G for manufacturing has really taken off and cellular technology is rapidly reshaping manufacturing. By 2030, there will be 4.7 billion wireless modules across smart manufacturing floors, with a value of over $1tn.” Here are some of the key takeaways from the session:

Integrating 5G with existing infrastructure and legacy equipment

One of the first questions from the session came from a supply director at a plant-based food and wellness platform. He said he was keen to learn how integrating 5G with existing infrastructure and legacy equipment would work.

Odenhammar explained how 5G can support multiple use cases and services including voice, while integrating with existing systems including control systems, WiFi and IoT. He said: “Private 5G can integrate both northbound towards the IT infrastructure of an enterprise or cloud, and southbound by partner devices towards the Operational Technology (OT) layer.

“We are building an ecosystem around our networks to have strong partners that together, can deliver e2e solutions. One important part of that ecosystem is the device partners that deliver the gateways and sensors to be used to retrofit legacy equipment with 5G capabilities.”

Speaking on the evening, the spokesperson from the plant-based food and wellness platform explained how 5G did not initially feature on their strategic roadmap before the event.

He explained: “After the session, I came away feeling like 5G is now a technology that feels much more ‘ready to use’. I learned a lot during the evening, particularly that 5G has a scheduler which enables it to be more controlled than WiFi. Also, that you can have a private 5G installation and how much 5G is starting to be used in industrial settings.

“5G wasn’t initially on our roadmap but it certainly is now, and the plan is being formed as we speak!”

Advantages of a 5G network

Another interesting question came from the head of solutions architecture at an international aerospace, defence and security manufacturer. He wanted to know what advantages a 5G network would present over traditional wireless connectivity.

Odenhammar highlighted how 5G networks offer increased predictability, better coverage, and the possibility to combine local and global connectivity. “This goes beyond connecting the factory but also connecting the whole supply chain and the whole lifecycle of a product. A private network can guarantee full coverage in an operational area, both indoors and outdoors as required, as well as in remote locations where public networks are not available.

“The interest in 5G for manufacturing has really taken off and cellular technology is rapidly reshaping manufacturing. By 2030, there will be 4.7 billion wireless modules across smart manufacturing floors, with a value of over $1tn” – Duncan Hawkins, VP Sales – Enterprise & Service Providers, Ericsson

“In terms of security and encryption, private networks based on cellular technology offer high security levels, since 3GPP standards are closely adhered to across vendors and include some of the most stringent encryption standards. All sensitive data stays on the premises”.

Odenhammar also explained how ensured capacity means that a private network removes contention with other network users to ensure the availability of capacity for the enterprise. This makes it possible to guarantee network performance, such as uplink and downlink bit rates and latency. Retained control means that private networks let enterprises determine and control how resources are utilised and how traffic is prioritised.

“Critical reliability means that a private network based on LTE and 5G technology offers performance and enables applications that cannot be accommodated by WiFi, such as ultra-high-definition video surveillance. Predictable and ensured low latency means that private networks are predictable and ensure the low latency required for many IoT applications that rely on time-bound communications, where delays can result in a catastrophic failure, such as for critical control of remote devices like heavy machinery.

“And lastly, high data speeds for communication mean that a private network can offer higher data speeds compared to narrowband land mobile radio systems, which suffer from capacity restraints. This is ideal for video and high-resolution imagery.”

When asked what key takeaways he garnered from the evening, the spokesperson from the international aerospace, defence and security manufacturer, explained: “The technology’s benefits are clear; what is needed is a commercial model that enables the acceleration of adoption and improved network coverage. Then it itself will improve the affordability. In other words, it needs a kick-start to create momentum.

Production hall Components Manufacturing Cells Plant 3 Rosenheim (1)

“I learned a lot over the course of the evening, particularly more about latency benefits, commercial challenges and opportunities. It was clear to see that there is an interest and willingness to engage with the technology – what is needed is a way to make that affordable.”

Speaking on the manufacturer’s plans to rollout technologies such as automation, AI, AR, and IoT, he added: “We have big plans for implementing these technologies – for us they will enable more agility and responsiveness in responding to our customer needs in a way that generates confidence in the accuracy of the outputs.”

Security concerns

An electrical and automation lead at a food and beverage manufacturer was interested in learning what security concerns arise from the adoption of new communication protocols.

Odenhammar highlighted how today’s mobile telecommunication networks are generally separated into four logical parts: radio access network, core network, transport network and interconnect network. He explained further: “5G networks will serve as critical infrastructures to accelerate the digitisation, automation, and connectivity to machines, robots, and transport solutions. There is a significant value at stake as well as a significantly different tolerance for risk.

“It’s important that when we begin to conceptualise security on a system wide level, where telecom networks are an important component, we adopt a strong understanding of the increased value at stake and decreased risk tolerance, cyber-physical dependencies, security of standards, products, deployments and operations, proactive cyber security measures, vulnerability management and securing the supply chain.”

When asked if 5G would be featuring on his strategic roadmap over the next 12-24 months, a spokesperson from a manufacturing operations company said there was currently a study ongoing and that there may be a possible implementation of a Proof of Concept on a trial site.

“The key takeaways for me from the evening’s discussion was the difference between WiFi and 5G, as well as understanding the benefits 5G has over WiFi. I also found the evening to be very insightful in learning more about what 5G technology contains and the advancements from 3G and 4G technology.

“Our digital transformation strategy for the future includes automation, AI, AR, and IoT and is currently deployed throughout the business where required. Continuous improvement work is ongoing with each site to identify which technology works best to suit their future requirements.”

Bjorn and Duncan

Left: Björn Odenhammar, Head of Networks & Managed Services Pre-Sales Customer Unit UK & Ireland, Ericsson Right: Duncan Hawkins, VP Sales – Enterprise & Service Providers at Ericsson