5G networks that transform entertainment, communication and transportation may still be years away. But in manufacturing, the technology is already making a difference.
Next-generation 5G networks can be 100 times faster than 4G, making communication between devices and servers much faster. The networks can be installed in relatively small areas — like a factory — without too much fuss.
The combination of speed, practicality and potential cost savings is encouraging factory operators to experiment with 5G. The results have been positive, suggesting the tech may be widely used in factories before smartphones and other consumer products, especially because surveys show many consumers are not yet willing to pay more for 5G.
Ericsson, one of the word’s biggest providers of 5G equipment, teamed up on one early test with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology in Germany.
The experiment involved a factory that makes metal bladed disks for jet engines. The large components are made in a process called metal milling, which takes up to 20 hours to complete and requires extremely precise cuts to be made in metal components.
The procedure has a high error rate: up to 25% of the blades have to be reworked because of faults caused by small vibrations. Often, mistakes are not detected until the end of the process, meaning much effort is wasted on completing flawed blades.
But by placing sensors that use 5G directly on the components or tools, Ericsson was able to detect faults in real time and reduce the error rate to just 15%. The average production cost of a blade was reduced by €3,600 ($4,075).
The speed and reliability of 5G networks means there is virtually zero latency, or lag time, between devices and the servers they communicate with. And that’s what makes the technology so useful to manufacturers.
“With one millisecond latency, you can sense whether there is a deviation in the process before the tool even hits the blade and you can stop the machine before the error happens,” said Åsa Tamsons, a senior vice president at Ericsson.