Ericsson and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology have teamed up to explore and develop industrial applications of 5G. The first use case being evaluated is the production of jet engine components for MTU Aero Engines.

The components concerned, blade integrated disks (blisk), are high-tech components where the disk and blades are produced as a single piece and serve the purpose of compressing the air inside jet engines. They are milled out of solid pieces of metal and have extremely high requirements for accuracy and surface integrity.

Applying 5G

Fifth-generation wireless technology, or 5G, is set to make networks much faster and more flexible. Some say 5G could be up to 1,000 times faster than current networks, with lower latency and much greater capacity. In a manufacturing setting, the ultra-low latency and very high bandwidth make it possible to control machines in real-time.

The Blisk pilot, which is Ericsson’s first published tangible case study of the business value of 5G-enabled production, shows the technical capabilities of 5G such as ultra-low latency of close to 1 millisecond, which is vital for in-process, time-critical applications. Ericsson’s 5G trial system operating on 3.5 GHz is connected to an acceleration sensor mounted directly on the blisk in the production machinery. The vibration spectrum is transmitted in real time via 5G to the evaluation system. The very low latency helps correlate the vibration to the tool’s position and enable prompt adjustment of the production process.

Savings from 5G

Ericsson estimates that the 5G-enabled blisk case alone can save approximately €27 million for one single factory, and up to €360 million globally. From a sustainability perspective, it calculates that CO2 emissions from both the production of blisk and their operation in jet engines can be reduced by some 16 million tons annually on a global basis.

Thomas Dautl, Director of Manufacturing Technology, MTU Aero Engines, comments: “A blade-integrated disk is a high-value component. The milling process takes 15-20 hours and the total lead time is around 3-4 months, including coating processes and quality checks. The new 5G-based production technology will help make our operations more efficient.”

Moreover, the fact that 5G is a wireless technology also means machines can be equipped with sensors where fixed connections cannot be installed, and production lines can easily be adapted to new requirements – in a fraction of a second.

Thomas Bergs, Managing Director at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology, says: “Many of our partners are planning to implement 5G on their manufacturing sites and see a great potential in having this technology in place. It will help the companies to become more competitive and profitable.”

Arun Bansal, Senior Vice President and Head of Market Area Europe and Latin America at Ericsson, says: “We are running 5G industry programs in Europe, North America and Asia. There is a strong demand from industries for 5G technology and together we can boost productivity and create new business opportunities. The Blisk project is a perfect example of what is possible in the industrial context with 5G in the future. Ultra-low latency of 5G makes this industrial use case feasible.”

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