Dull, dirty, dangerous – no more! The year manufacturing gets smart (Ericsson on 2022)
Manufacturing facilities have seen a rapid shift in recent years as production moves beyond traditional methods of output to production enabled by the adoption of information and communication technology (ICT). Full automation is approaching as manufacturers aim for agile and flexible production processes that will deliver customized products leveraging mass-production techniques.
In fact, manufacturers expect to be at least 80 percent automated within the next 10 years, which is why ICT-enabled production tools will become even more widely adopted in 2022 as decision-makers continue to work towards these long-term goals of fully automated processes.
Despite the global pandemic, smart manufacturing techniques have enabled production to continue efficiently with profitability remaining predominately unchanged, or even increased in many cases. However, there are other challenges the industry is looking to address. By investing in 5G, the industry can move further away from the stigma of manufacturing being dull, dirty and dangerous work. Instead, the industry can edge rapidly towards becoming a significantly enhanced version of what it once was.
As wireless connectivity matures – enabling businesses to advance systems and increase profitability and customization – it also creates a safer working environment in addition to providing sustainability efficiencies. Automation and digitalization are expected to continue to alter the role of the production employee as production workers’ roles are quickly moving away from tendering and assembling to troubleshooting, oversight and analyzing more technical tasks.
Consequently, their roles are evolving towards a safer, smarter and cleaner working environment.
For manufacturing to remain at the forefront of accelerated innovation while reducing costs and enhancing product quality, the usage of AI, video recognition, remote-controlled machines and automated vehicles allow for improvement in the way resources are utilized, increasing production efficiency. Facilities will see an increase in the usage of augmented reality (AR) and automated material handling as they enable information to be readily available to the humans manning production operations, streamlining the entire process.
The pandemic has accelerated the usage of AR as travel has been difficult or even impossible, and will continue to enable experts to be “present” on the shop floor without requiring physical travel. Additionally, through increased automation of material handling, the assembly process will become even more efficient through 5G capabilities enabling secure and reliable technology that can support mobility demands.
Today, industries are under pressure to stay competitive by quickly addressing specific changes in the market. With ICT-enabled 5G production tools such as digital twins and cooperative, autonomous robots (cobots), production can be reconfigured and optimized to increase the efficiency of customization. Additionally, these ICT-enabled 5G production tools make collecting data from production lines efficient in a constantly evolving environment.
Decision-makers will have an advantage when they need to make quick decisions based on data being transferred between other on-site machines and production workers through reliable real-time signals. Production workers will also have the advantage of making real-time decisions effortlessly by accessing the information that’s generated from the machines in front of them.
Versatile tools with broad application capabilities such as remote-controlled robots, vehicles, machines and video recognition are additionally instrumental in reducing on-site hazards and aid in cost-effectiveness. Augmenters, including exoskeletons and AR, enhance the quality of production and factory efficiencies while offloaders, including automatic guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots, will be more frequently utilized.
Combined, these tools enable workers to avoid dangerous and dirty tasks, while increasing the efficiency and quality of production. Additionally, the usage of digital twins is expected to increase over the next year and become more widely adopted in the years following. As a tool that many manufacturers were unaware of, it is expected to become more relevant to the production process as more knowledge is obtained on how this software-based tool can be leveraged.
Over the next year, we will continue to observe increased speed and quality of production, reduced costs and a reduction in dangerous tasks that create wear-and-tear and other serious injuries. Robotic prices will continue to decline while rising labor costs continue to build the business case for automated manufacturing. Machine learning and AR and VR will also support an ageing workforce by creating a field that is disruptive and desirable. This can help bridge the skills gap by attracting workers that understand robotics, AI and analytics.
Adoption of the tools that enable these advancements in automation support both short-term and long-term goals to further automate production processes as we embrace Industry 4.0. But this evolution will not happen overnight as companies need to begin by altering their way of working with 5G. A proper plan needs to be in place to address the wide range of challenges the industry is facing including worker safety, workforce stereotypes, environmental impact, efficient customization and more.
A well-thought-out strategy for rolling out ICT-enabled tools can make the biggest difference between a company that succeeds and reaps the full benefits of 5G, compared to one that is just scratching the surface by implementing new technologies on a one-dimensional level.