How the 5G innovation platform is enabling the next generation of lean production

Posted on 9 Jan 2023 by Tom St John

5G is much more than a network - it’s a platform for innovation with the ability to provide global scale and enable manufacturing use cases that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. Sebastian Elmgren, Head of Business Development & Product Marketing, Dedicated Networks, Ericsson, explains the potential of this emerging technology.

What makes 5G different from previous generations?

5G can take traditional ways of working and make them more flexible. If you look at previous generations of cellular technology, 5G is the first that has been made for machines. 3G and 4G were made for people and could basically do one thing – smartphones.

With 5G we have a lot of different flavours; you can do everything from simple sensors, vision systems, low latency, remote control, connected workers, mobility – and all with the same infrastructure.

What will this mean for manufacturers?

5G will be able to simplify manufacturing infrastructures. If you look at a typical factory today there is a huge number of differing networks, whether that be Sigma, Bluetooth, LoRa and cable or WiFi networks. When handling all those networks total cost of ownership is very high. We can simplify that by having one infrastructure. In addition, 5G is a licenced technology, which means it’s more reliable.

This opens up use cases that require predictability and deterministic ways of working. This is not possible with legacy technologies. A third dimension of 5G is that we talk a lot about 5G in the factory, but it exists on a global scale too. It’s both a local and global technology, and we can go between those two worlds. We can look beyond just the connected factory and into the connected supply chain and lifecycle of a product, like no technology has been able to do before.

How does 5G fit into the concept of lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is about being data driven and making decisions based on facts. 5G becomes the layer that can collect data, analyse it and then return it so that manufacturers can act in a very reliable way, adding even more data into the lean manufacturing concept. Right now, we see many islands of information in the factory; we can link those together. We can start looking at the flow efficiency of the entire factory more than just individual resources. This can link all the way back to the customer, enabling manufacturers to become more flexible, moving from make to stock, to make to order, which in turn minimises waste.

Seb article - MLS - How the 5G innovation platform is enabling the next generation of lean production

How does 5G fit around the sustainability agenda?

The flexibility to be able to have a one-piece flow, but using the same level of resources of full volume production, will be the biggest key to sustainability. Right now, when we produce stock, there’s a lot of waste and we produce elements that we don’t actually need. If we can have the flexibility to be as fast as we are today with volume production, but with added customisation, we’ll know that every product produced will have an end customer. The next step for 5G is to go beyond local and combine that with the global connectivity that exists. We see automotive manufacturers already doing that, where 5G is providing a digital thread, carrying information throughout the whole lifecycle of a product.

Listen to Sebastian’s interview in full on The Manufacturer Archives

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