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How connected industries could have benefited the world from Covid-19?

(Image credit: Future)

The Covid-19 pandemic has had dramatic consequences on manufacturing and global production due to lockdowns but how this might have looked in a more connected industrial world?

“Covid-19 has taught us a lot and to move away from physical investment to digital investment,” Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries at Ericsson, said.

He said that Industry 4.0 journey is going to create significant potential and next-generation cellular wireless communication (5G) and will accelerate the flexibility, efficiency and innovation in industries by fusing cloud computing.

According to Research Nester, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) market will grow to $525b by the end of 2026 from $280b in 2018.

Previous mobile technologies such as 3G and 4G were built for human interactions, but 5G will allow industries to cut cables to the machines with the intelligence of the cloud and IoT.

Moreover, 5G promises machine-to-machine communication much better than what 4G can do and at more economical rates.

With automation and intelligent networks, what can the future of hyper-flexible factories look like and what happens when you cut the cables and set your production facilities free?

“80% of the factories today, when they say is connected is through cables. The merge between IT and OT needs wireless communication and 5G comes at the right time,” Josefsson said.

IT systems are storage systems, computing technology, business applications and data analysis while OT systems are machinery equipment, assets monitoring systems and control systems.

Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries at Ericsson

“Covid-19 has taught us a lot and to move away from physical investment to digital investment,” Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries at Ericsson, said. (Image credit: Future)

Key benefits

“We have factories in China, Estonia and have opened a new factory in the US in March this year. Using 5G, AR, VR and remote control solutions, in all our factories, we kept operations running despite 85% of the staff was working from home,” Josefsson said.

Moreover, he said that cellular brings three things to the table – mobility, flexibility and scalability. 

“The key benefits are increasing efficiency by getting data from machines and tools which were not possible before,” he said.

There will be 2m autonomous mobile robots (AMR) in factories in 2030, he said and added that when IT and OT merge and communications come in with 5G, it is going to be interesting.

ABB and Ericsson have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2019 to enhance the future of flexible production with advanced automation and wireless communication.

Ericsson and ABB already have a strong collaboration in research for 5G and Industrial IoT technologies.

Private 5G network: A smart solution

Juha Mirsch, Global Cellular Communication (IIoT) Lead at ABB Motion, said that remote monitoring, during the pandemic, has increased social distancing from the machines and increased staff safety.

“From the connectivity perspective, you could say the industry is connected. In the early stages, lot of cables were connected to the machines and the next evolution, in terms of OT perspective, is to get rid of that last cable and make it wireless and make the industry much more flexible,” he said.

However, Josefsson said that 5G will be the catalyst for scaling the smart factory. 

According to a report published by Ericsson and ABI Research, the smart-manufacturing market will grow to $1tr with 4.3b wireless connections by 2030 while the transition to private cellular networks is expected to have a gross-margin boost of 5-13% and offers a clear incentive for adoption.

Josefsson said that adopting a private cellular network, providing more bandwidth for priority needs, as a smart and secure solution is a must to realise the full value of Industry 4.0.

Today, many manufacturers use fibre, WiFi and 4G LTE for connected factories as the Release 16 standards for 5G are not finalised by GSMA and 3GPP.

5G, not only promises more bandwidth than WiFi and 4G LTE but also network slicing and low latency.

According to research firm Gartner, certain use cases can be achieved by 4G LTE but smart factories are major opportunities for 5G.

According to research firm IHS Market, 5G will generate $13.2tr in new business by 2035 and the highest impact will be in manufacturing, with almost $4.7tr in new economic activity.

The number of 5G IoT endpoints will grow from 3.5m in 2020 to 28.6m in 2023, most of that will be in connected cars and surveillance cameras, according to Gartner.

“How do we merge the existing OT with the new technologies and that is what we need to explore, learn and adapt on,” Mirsch said.