The Connected Factory: Smarter, faster and more efficient | Automation.com

The Connected Factory: Smarter, faster and more efficient

The Connected Factory: Smarter, faster and more efficient

By Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries, Ericsson

Looking to enhance performance, become more agile and gain competitive advantage? Most manufacturers are looking at digitalization to increase efficiency, reduce costs and deliver more customer value. In principle, it sounds easy. But many find that embracing – and keeping pace – with new technologies is much more complicated than they had initially thought. What is the best way to harness the power of Industry 4.0? Make sure that your connected factories have intelligent connectivity solutions­, solutions that are smart, stable, secure, simple to useand leverage ever-growing amounts of data to create value.

 

The Challenges of Wired Connectivity

Digitizing information-intensive processes has huge potential. It can slash costs, make it easier to customize production and shorten time to market. But reaping big benefits like these can only occur by fully integrating all devices, machines and systems into a single, unified whole so that the people running them have full transparency over operations.

This isn’t easy. In most industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) environments, 94 percent of all ‘things’ are still wired and retrofitted onto legacy equipment. Adding intelligence to an inflexible set of assets is counterintuitive. It limits operations by isolating systems that cannot communicate with one another. It creates information silos that do not allow data to be analyzed and monetized. It makes it impossible to manage and make sense of what’s going on in a factory.

What’s more, moving hard-wired, retrofitted equipment is expensive. Ripping up and reinstalling cables costs an estimated $200 per meter of cable. It is also time-consuming, which leads to downtime, reduced productivity and loss of revenue. The return on investment must therefore outweigh the costs of re-cabling and reconfiguring a production line to make it worthwhile.

Hard-wired equipment now shares the factory floor with an increasing number of mobile devices and autonomous guided vehicles, as manufacturers try to get more value per square foot or square meter. All these devices cannot boost productivity if they can’t communicate quickly and effortlessly with one another. The result? Connectivity issues where network congestion slows processes down instead of speeding them up.  

These are a few of the challenges (not to mention developing a sound security strategy) manufacturers face today. To overcome these challenges, manufacturers need a connectivity solution that is easy to deploy, easy to manage and easy to use. This solution must address industrial environment connectivity issues of wired networks through dedicated reliable and secure wireless coverage that supports a high concentration of devices and predictable latency.

 

Get More Agile, Go Wireless

One way to solve the connectivity challenges is to set your factory free. Cutting the cables makes your business more agile, adds greater flexibility to manufacturing production processes, and drastically reduces the time it takes to commission new production lines or minimize changeover of existing production lines. It enables manufacturers to become more responsive to and meet ever-changing customer demands.

Now more than ever, connectivity is critical to manufacturing success as manufacturers integrate more intelligence into their production processes and automation systems and add more connected devices and machines onto factory floors around the world. However, the connected factory floor needs reliable and secure connectivity to make operations smarter, faster and more efficient than before.

Dedicated cellular connectivity from a private cellular network offers manufacturers a sound way forward. It meets manufacturer requirements for ultrafast data transmission which enables large numbers of devices to work together in real time. This optimizes workflows, making them seamless. It makes line changeovers quick and easy. It enables new processes such as collaborative robotics for automated operations to be introduced on the factory floor. It ensures data security because you can write your own SIM cards, making your network virtually tamper-proof. In addition, all data stays on your premises unless you choose to share it.

A private cellular network makes digital twins (real-time inspection of a digital replica of a physical product) possible to improve quality control. It also enhances workplace safety with collision avoidance for autonomous guided vehicles. Smart manufacturers who want to introduce this level of mobility to factory floors, if they haven’t already done so, will need industrial-grade connectivity to gain competitive advantage and realize higher productivity and higher profitability.

 

A path to 5G

Should you start now with 4G or wait for 5G? Those who wait often find it difficult to catch up to those who embrace new technologies early on. A dedicated cellular network running on 4G gets you started now with the speed, reliability and security needed to operate a large number of devices on the factory floor. And it can be the first step on a path to 5G.

It is clear a major paradigm shift is now occurring in the manufacturing sector as more connected factories take shape around the world. Why wait to see what will happen? A dedicated 4G LTE cellular network enables the interconnection of assets and processes in real time, seamlessly integrating workflows and making factory digitization and advanced automation a reality. Compared to a wired network, a private cellular network can add value and reduce waste while increasing safety and security.

Dedicated cellular connectivity will enable new leading-edge industrial automation applications to take their place on connected factory floors. More and more innovative use cases demonstrate the benefits of the connected factory – increased efficiencies, higher productivity, significant cost savings and new revenues streams from monetizing data. Initiatives like the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) clearly demonstrate that the industry recognizes this as well. It’s time to connect your factory. Don’t get left behind.

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