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A Glimpse into the Factory of the Future | Steve Evans, Nokia UK&I

Michael Behr

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Factory

Connected technologies can provide traditional manufacturing with a much-needed boost and generate trillions of dollars in economic value.

Speaking at IA2020, Nokia CTO for Global Enterprise UK&I, Steve Evans, discussed the power of Industry 4.0 and how technology is revolutionising the manufacturing sector.

For the most part, manufacturing needs a revolution. In his presentation, Evans warned that physical industries have been lagging behind in terms of investment, despite providing the greater share of global GDP. He pointed to Industry 4.0, the application of IoT technologies, as providing the tools to close this gap by increasing productivity and efficiency.

“Connectivity, in general, is the bedrock of enabling society and industry to better themselves,” he explained. IoT technologies, Evans added, could add between $3 trillion and $11 trillion of economic value to physical industries by 2025.

Factories, with a plethora of sensors, have been producing and recording a wide variety of data, such as temperature, pressure, vibrations, etc., for years. While this information provides the key to understanding and improving processes, machines have traditionally lacked the intelligence needed to fully utilise it.

Traditionally, accurate data and a little analysis could be used to calibrate the torque on a drill bit to reduce failures. This, however, requires a human analyst to deliver only small gains in efficiency.

Evans pointed to 5G technology and other radio-based technologies as providing a fast and flexible method to create data flows between machines in real-time. These flows offer much larger efficiency gains.

For example, sensors in a machine can detect when a component, say a drill bit, is close to malfunctioning. By alerting a human, the machine can be shut down and the component replaced in a controlled and timely manner, preventing damage to machine or product.

However, a sophisticated IoT system, involving multiple computers drawing data from many sensors and communicating with each other, could automate much of the process – one computer can warn machines up and down an assembly line to slow down in anticipation of maintenance work; a spare component could be ordered or even 3D printed ahead of the maintenance work; or end-users and sales staff could be warned in advance of impending delays.

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The low latency of 5G also helps enable this through real-time automated control of processes. In the case of mission-critical events and emergencies, assembly lines could be shut down almost immediately should a machine detect an accident, preventing damage across the line and potentially saving human lives.

Other technologies Evans highlighted included digital twinning, where a virtual model of a physical asset can be altered to test out changes before committing to a costly refit. This also offers the ability to track assets in real-time, which can significantly improve operational efficiency.

“Imagine warehouses or ports where there’s a significant amount of physical traffic; real-time tracking offers an enormous benefit,” he said.

Nokia worked with an unnamed port to create a digital twin of the port’s assets, where every item was tracked using cameras and drones. Evans noted that the return on investment took less than a year, mostly due to reduced insurance costs. This was down to tracking work catching and deterring theft at the port.

While physical connections provide lower latency than 5G, wireless technology makes a factory more flexible. Firstly, it cuts out the need to trail wires and cables across a factory, removing potential trip hazards. But more importantly, it means that factories are more flexible, as machines can be moved or switched in and out without having to be wired up to one another.

Nokia makes use of technology in its own radio technology factory in Finland. This factory needs to be reconfigured regularly. “All areas are mobile – they can all be moved around the factory,” Evans said. “We have automated robots all around the factory delivering items. This is all controlled via 5G technology.

“The ability to change that factory floor is actually very simple now – everything can be moved around at a moment’s notice and we typically have two-week production lines. And that’s because of the ability to see all of the data and do something with that data but critically have real-time communications via radio.”

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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