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What's the real deal with 5G in manufacturing?

April 20, 2021
A Q&A with Ericsson's smart-manufacturing expert.

We hear a lot about 5G these days, but there remains confusion about how—exactly—this technology is actually helping enterprises on their digital journeys. So we posed questions to Sebastian Elmgren, Ericsson’s portfolio manager for smart manufacturing. Take a look…

Smart Industry: How and why will cellular technology play a critical role with productivity, supply chain optimizations and customization?

Sebastian: Today, flexibility is the driving force for manufacturing and companies need to be able to meet changes in market demands, short product life cycles and cost-efficient customization. Wired communication, which makes up 98% of a factory’s connectivity, is stable and secure but does not give the flexibility needed in a modern factory. To solve this, many companies turn to wireless technologies to increase their flexibility and often turn to WiFi first, as it is a technology they are familiar with. While WiFi provides flexibility, it does not have the stability and security needed by many industrial protocols. This is where cellular technology will play a critical role as it can provide both the flexibility of a wireless network as well as the stability and security of a cable network, enabling companies to meet new market demands in a cost-efficient way. Additionally, cellular technology is the only communication technology that can go beyond the local connectivity of a single factory. By combining the local network and the existing global infrastructure, the whole supply chain, as well as the complete lifecycle of a product, can be connected.

Smart Industry: How is 5G changing the digitization process?

Sebastian: 5G is increasing the speed and reliability of the data flow in an enterprise. Since data serves as the blood in the digitalization process, this will increase the speed of digitalization. 5G will make it possible to collect more data than ever before and will enable more advanced analyses of that data, as well as open the possibility to act on the collected and analyzed data at an unprecedented speed.

Smart Industry: Are customers concerned about hazards with 5G such as health concerns, privacy issues, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, etc.?

Sebastian: Cybersecurity is the first topic in any 5G discussion. If you are unable to show that you have built security into all aspects of your product, you are counted out. Security is the ticket to play in the game, and it is a top priority for Ericsson. Through our various business and mission-critical installations, we have proved we have that ticket. However, as we enter new verticals, the need to prove ourselves continues. We expect nothing less from our customers since they are trusting us with the most crucial parts of their operations.

Smart Industry: What is your smart manufacturing value calculator and how is it used? Who can access it?

Sebastian: The value calculator is an online tool where we have collected the most common use cases for 5G in a smart factory. In this tool, it is possible to test out different scenarios for a factory to see what use cases will have the most impact and what the ROI would look like. The basic tool is available to the general public on Ericsson.com and it is also possible to sit down with an Ericsson expert for further-customized scenario planning.

Smart Industry: Please touch on one of the use cases that exemplifies these ideas (Audi, ABB, BMW)

Sebastian: One of the most common use cases that we see many companies start with is the 5G AMRs, which happens to be one of the use cases included in the value calculator. As the need for flexible material handling in factories increases, we see larger AMRs installations. WiFi often struggles with reliability and coverage for a large installation of moving devices, as any interruption in the connectivity will lead to a stop in the material flow and in turn, can become very costly for an enterprise. In this case, 5G has the potential to deliver the stability and reliability needed and simultaneously create significant cost savings.