In the summer of 2019, Ericsson announced that they would be building the world’s first fully automated smart factory in the US, investing over $100 million. Ultimately built in Lewisville, Texas, the smart factory became operational in March 2020, initially building base stations and other 5G products.
Now, a year later, the smart factory is being recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a ‘Global Lighthouse’, celebrating leadership in Industry 4.0 technologies.
Fourteen additional manufacturing sites across three continents also received the designation, with the WEF’s Lighthouse Network now totalling 69 sites.
Part of the recognition here comes as a result of the enhanced employee productivity the factory has delivered, with the site’s automation and advanced technologies resulting in a 2.2-fold increase in output per employee. A large part of this increased productivity comes from having automated robots take over much of the manual labour, with the factory reporting a 65% decrease in manual material handling.
Furthermore, the smart factor has been home to the development of 25 new use cases over the last year, many of which are set to be deployed at scale in the following 12 months.
But it is not just the operational efficiencies and the development of new technologies themselves which are being celebrated by this designation from the WEF, there is also an environmental dimension. The smart factory runs entirely on renewable energy and is far more resource efficient when compared to similar buildings, using 24% less energy and 75% less water.
This focus mirrors Ericsson’s own environmental targets, which are informed by the goals of the Paris Agreement, including halving global carbon emissions by 2030. 5G smart factories have the potential to play a major role in this regard, set to reducie the manufacturing sector’s carbon footprint by 15% by the 2030 deadline.
“Running fully automated factories using the latest technologies is part of our strategy for a more resilient and sustainable global supply chain. It shows our commitment to continue working close to our customers, ultimately enabling us to reduce emissions,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks at Ericsson. “This World Economic Forum designation highlights the transformative impact of 5G technology in general – and on our factories in particular – to benefit business and society at large.”
From saving the environment to helping economies to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, 5G smart factories have enormous potential, but scaling them up remains a significant challenge. According to the WEF, 74% of companies remained stuck in “pilot purgatory” in 2020, meaning successful projects like this are sorely needed to help drive uptake and encourage manufactures to invest in transforming their businesses.
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