Digital Manufacturing - 5G Network-Connected Machines
Dr. Evangelo Damigos; PhD | Head of Digital Futures Research Desk
- Connected Intelligence
Publication | Update: Oct 2020
With 5G, manufacturers can connect factory devices and quicker adoption of new technologies, and given the low latency provided by 5G, around 10 milliseconds, as well as allowing for up to one million sensors per square kilometre, they can be monitored in real time to improve productivity.
“The more parts that need to be transported, the more production steps and vendors, the more distributed the set-up is, the higher the benefits from 5G industrial digitisation,” says Bela Virag, managing partner at technology management consultancy Arthur D. Little in an interview in Raconteur.
“A robot can come with an inbuilt SIM that is easily connected to the 5G network, so operators can plug and play, as opposed to establishing a new network for it, which creates barriers to adoption,” says Guido Jouret, chief digital officer at ABB in an interview in Raconteur. “A factory with good wireless connectivity can produce more because robots can work 24/7.”
Using 5G-enabled technologies for increased data capture, MTU Aero Engines, a company that produces bladed disks for engines, working with Ericsson and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology, managed to reduce its process design phase by 75 per cent, with annual savings of approximately €27 million.
“Manufacturing needs to be adaptable to cater for increasing demand for more personalised products,” says Mats Norin, programme manager at 5G For Industries, Ericsson Research.
The 5G network is more easily segmented, so factories could even provision additional network slices, as and when needed, to support changes in the volume of production.
“Slicing offers manufacturers a dedicated system which they can fully control” says Dritan Kaleshi, head of technology for 5G at UK innovation centre Digital Catapult. “It provides reliable communications with guaranteed quality of service, along with cloud-based computation that is under the operator’s absolute control.”
A study conducted by Ericsson and BT found that compared with conventional networks, network slicing is the best and most economic model for IoT service delivery and can provide a 150 per cent economic benefit.
We encounter the emergence of new flexible production business models and as Guido Jouret, chief digital officer at ABB says increased flexibility will enable manufactures to say yes to more work they would otherwise have to turn down. “Any factory is in some sense inflexible because it’s optimised to produce certain things; however, if it’s possible to easily reprogram equipment, manufacturers can produce items in smaller batches, for example in less than 10,000 units, which they typically find hard to do today,” he concludes.
According to Assembly magazine, during the next decade, 5G promises to dramatically transform the way that conveyors, fastening tools, robots and other production equipment perform and interact on the plant floor. It will drive numerous Industry 4.0 initiatives, improving the automation of production processes and real-time monitoring of machine conditions.
The technology provides the ability to connect multiple devices at once and move more data faster than ever. As 5G is adopted, it will improve the ability of engineers to deploy artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, digital twins and other smart factory tools. It will also enable millions of devices, such as actuators, cameras, motors and sensors, to be connected wirelessly with each other.
Early 5G trial deployment projects at European manufacturers hint that bringing 5G connectivity to the factory floor will decrease maintenance costs by 30 percent and increase overall equipment efficiency by 7 percent.
“Safer, flexible and more efficient manufacturing systems will be possible thanks to the ultra-low-latency and reliability of 5G connectivity,” says Jens Jakobsen, development manager at HMS Labs, a company that specializes in connected devices and networks. “From a technical perspective, 5G technology has the potential to meet all the requirements,” claims Jakobsen.
“The industrial world is undergoing its fourth revolution, and the goals are to increase flexibility, increase automation and improve productivity, while also maintaining a high degree of safety and sustainability,” explains Jakobsen. “Therefore, using 5G is the perfect solution for enabling smart wireless connectivity in the factory.”
“In the context of industrial applications, 5G is much more than just an enhanced version of 4G,” adds Leo Gergs, 5G analyst at ABI Research, a global tech market advisory firm. “5G allows completely new applications for connectivity on the factory floor. Supporting the connectivity of between 1,000 and 1 million devices per square kilometer will enable setting up highly dense wireless sensor networks, enabling the permanent monitoring of production processes and production machine conditions,” says Gergs.
According to ABI Research, by 2026 there will be more than 5 million 5G connections on the factory floor. And, the market for 5G cellular connections in manufacturing will reach billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual rate of 187 percent.
According to Kamphuis, the biggest misconception associated with 5G technology is the adoption curve. “Initially, 5G will see the most traction in the hotspot and smartphone market,” he points out. “Connected manufacturing techniques that leverage 5G capabilities specifically will lag [behind] a few years, due to a lack of coverage densities,” says Kamphuis. “We’ll also see a slow adoption of 5G radios embedded in shop floor equipment, as well as manufacturers’ slow adoption of connected approaches to managing the shop floor. One of the biggest myths with 5G technology is that it’s the most important thing in tomorrow’s high technology and connected manufacturing; it is not,” claims Kamphuis. “It’s just data coverage and a lot more bandwidth.
The promise of reliable, low-latency and high-bandwidth wireless connectivity is opening up new possibilities and benefits across manufacturing operations, such as automation, asset efficiency, cost reduction and supply chain agility.
5G technology will improve the performance and connectivity of production equipment such as conveyors, fastening tools and robots. For instance, a robot connected to the cloud via 5G could use machine learning to find the best way of navigating its environment and performing tasks without being specifically programmed in advance.
At last year’s Hannover Fair in Germany, several automation suppliers showcased how 5G will change factories in the near future.
Bosch Rexroth’s lineup included a mobile control panel that enabled human-robot collaboration and integrated industrial Ethernet over 5G. Festo featured displays that highlighted artificial intelligence, integrated connectivity and predictive maintenance applications.
Weidmüller showcased a 5G-enabled energy monitoring system for use in welding control applications. The system’s analysis unit receives data directly from the welding process and feeds it via a 5G modem and 5G network to an energy flow visualization unit.
Zeiss displayed an inline process control system for the auto industry. Its AICell measures all key characteristics of every single car body component as it passes through the production line, thereby delivering much more accurate and reliable process monitoring and control data than random testing. It is equipped with an array of inline sensors that inspect and measure body features and topographies, checking for cracks, flushness and other characteristics.
In addition, Ericsson teamed up with Comau to show a 5G-powered digital twin of an automotive assembly line. Ericsson is a leading supplier of antennas, base stations, routers and other types of wireless equipment.
Using a virtual reality (VR) headset, visitors were immersed in the line and could “move” within it, monitoring key process parameters such as pressures, temperatures and vibrations. A VR digital dashboard, which could be used with a standard tablet device, identified situations that could create slowdowns or interruptions in the process by providing instructions to tackle the problem effectively.
“The features of 5G connectivity allow [us] to collect a stable, continuous and massive flow of data in real-time that is vital for automation processes,” says Maurizio Cremonini, head of marketing and the digital initiatives platform at Comau. “Thanks to 5G low latency, the digital twin shows information related to the real robot in the form of visual outputs, which make it possible to understand how the robot activity will evolve in the cell. From the data analysis, it is possible to foresee faults and malfunctions, and identify which components must be repaired or replaced, suggesting which actions to take to operate effectively,” claims Cremonini. “5G becomes the enabling technology for every analytics and digital intelligence remote activity on
“Bandwidth and low latency, main features of the new 5G technology, are the crucial factors that will allow [us] to accelerate the digitization and automation processes, enabling cutting-edge use cases in smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0,” adds Magnus Frodigh, head of research at Ericsson. “5G deployment in the industrial environment will allow [manufacturers] to increase productivity and reduce costs.”
Ericsson also has a strategic partnership with ABB Robotics to apply 5G technology to its machines. During the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the companies teamed up for a demonstration using two cloud-connected ABB robots operating via an Ericsson-powered live 5G network. The goal was to showcase human-robot collaboration and control over wide distances utilizing the real-time communication capabilities of 5G.
“Today, the flexibility of factories is limited by the amount of data that can be processed, because of the lack of reliable, low-latency and high-bandwidth connectivity,” claims Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s robotics and discrete automation business. “Replacing traditional hard wires with 5G mobile networks will take the interconnection between machines, materials and people to a new level. [This will help] drive the shift from mass production to mass customization, by supporting the shift to flexible manufacturing cells where manufacturing lines can be constantly reconfigured to accommodate changing manufacturing needs,” says Atiya.
According to Atiya, 5G technology will result in several benefits to manufacturers, including: large networks of sensors for predictive maintenance of machines and robots on the factory floor; cloud robotics will enable smaller, cheaper robots that can be centrally controlled and untethered in any environment; identification and tracking of goods in the end-to-end value chain; and remote quality inspection and diagnostics with high-resolution 3D video or haptic feedback, thermal and other sensors.
“The traditional connectivity paradigm is being challenged by flexible production and wireless industrial IoT (IIoT),” adds Asa Tamsons, senior vice president and head of business area technologies and new businesses at Ericsson, which operates a state-of-the-art 5G factory in Tallinn, Estonia. “Currently, most IIoT [applications] are based on wired connections. However, as the evolving cellular capabilities are challenging industrial ethernet solutions, wires will in many cases become redundant, introducing opportunities for more flexible production and faster line changes,” claims Tamsons.
“Digitization of factory assets, equipment, vehicles and processes means the number of connected devices will increase exponentially,” adds Tamsons. “The estimated number of connected devices needed in a typical smart factory is 0.5 per square meter. Manufacturers will gradually adopt supportive applications to increase efficiency and quality in their activities, from augmented reality (AR) to digital twins.”
For example, at Ericsson’s factory in Estonia, inspection of assets and products with AR technology has resulted in consistently improved product quality with reduced lead times and costs.
Compared to their European counterparts, American manufacturers have been slow to jump on the 5G bandwagon. However, many experts believe that will soon change.
For instance, Whirlpool Corp. is currently testing 5G technology at its Clyde, OH, washing machine factory. Engineers are converting a fleet of automated guided vehicles to run on the technology instead of traditional Wi-Fi, which is susceptible to interference issues.
But, European manufacturers are leading the 5G charge, spurred on by widescale Industry 4.0 initiatives. For example, Daimler AG recently implemented the world’s first 5G network for automobile production at its cutting-edge “Factory 56” in Sindelfingen, Germany. The 105-year-old facility assembles Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans.
“We’ve started leveraging 5G to simplify factory IT operations, improve support to manufacturing and accelerate factory digitization,” says Luke Durcan, Ph.D., director of EcoStruxure at Schneider Electric.
According to Durcan, 5G applications leverage better network quality, faster response times and secure indoor coverage to validate a range of use cases along various aspects, such as:
- Enhancing the real-time augmented reality systems used by maintenance technicians and field workers.
- Improving predictive maintenance through more robust data analytics.
- Enabling factory robots to send video streams and sensor input, and receive real-time instructions to perform tasks.
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