EXOR's New Smart Factory Blends 5G, AI With IoT

EXOR's New Smart Factory Blends 5G, AI With IoT

July 27, 2021

Manufacturing technology concern EXOR International has teamed with Intel, JMA Wireless and Telecom Italia on a leading-edge factory that combines 5G and artificial intelligence as manufacturers worldwide ponder the best ways to implement capabilities of Industry 4.0.

EXOR, an industrial PC (IPC) and human machine interfaces (HMI) manufacturer, is using the new facility to expand the capabilities of the latest networking, cloud and edge computing technologies in an environment where AI and 5G are also in use.

“Our smart factory in Verona will demonstrate that digitalization can happen at any scale, which is increasingly important for small and mid-size manufacturers looking to stay innovative and competitive," says Claudio Ambra, CTO of EXOR International, in a statement. "We can’t wait to share what is now possible for manufacturers of all sizes with Industry 4.0 solutions.”

The Rise of the Intelligent Factory

EXOR plans to use the smart factory to showcase the operational benefits of digitalization, including autonomous human resources scheduling and reacting to changes in orders and employee availability in real time. Factory intelligence can also determine whether the week's projects, including supplies, components, and documentation, are in order and ready for production. The smart factory systems also offer real-time updates on order status and work-in-progress advancements, EXOR says.

EXOR has already demonstrated remote orchestration of the visual Inspection machine (VIM) over 5G, according to Mark Olding, CMO at EXOR. "We obtained a latency average of 8 [milliseconds] with sufficient bandwidth to control the machine over 5G," he says. "The VIM will remain in the lab while we continue to test other industrial protocols over 5G and build up the computing power of the smart edge device we are developing."

In addition, EXOR has built a 5G lab inside its Verona facility for manufacturers to explore how they build private wireless networks and integrate with existing solutions. The lab will explore 5G’s ability to improve communication under extreme factory conditions, enable peer-to-peer communication through industrial robots, and deliver edge computing cluster connectivity, complementing hard-wired connections, the manufacturer adds.

Olding says visitors are already flocking to the lab, and each visiting group includes most of the visitor's "C" suite executives, including a digital transformation officer ("I did not know that title existed!" he admits). "Every visit was different, depending upon the client’s problem they are looking to solve,” he adds.

Olding says that all the visits “include stopping by the Corvina room, where we demonstrate all the data visible in dashboards from MEW, ERP, HR, and sales.” He says visitors are also interested in the production lines, where EXOR has smart edge clusters that they are developing for market release, and the 5G lab. Olding says that “the next step is to work with Telecom Italia to establish pricing of private 5G networks."

The Industry 4.0 Digital Factory

The moves underscore the growing momentum behind a host of emerging technologies. "EXOR’s new smart factory is significant because it not only demonstrates that Industry 4.0 factory digitization is possible with technology available today, but also that the factory of the future is within reach for manufacturers of all sizes--thanks largely to solutions based upon standards with open architectures," says Christine Boles, vice president in the Internet of Things Group and general manager, Industrial Solutions Division at Intel.

The technology combo has reduced maintenance costs and increased productivity, and more gains are expected as the latest edge computing and networking technologies are deployed in an agile and modular application environment.

EXOR will be testing out a visual quality inspection machine equipped with Intel’s Movidius VPU and OpenVINO software, which automatically detects the presence of defects, dust, and scratches in near real-time. The solution will also classify defects before sending data to factory workers for analysis.

Big Growth in Smart Manufacturing

By 2027, the global market for smart manufacturing is projected to hit $506.33 billion, a healthy doubling from 2020 revenues of $225.73 billion, according to Fortune Business Insights. That increase is being driven by manufacturers looking for ways to use industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies such as AI and 5G to cut maintenance and energy costs along with increasing worker efficiency.

The market growth is driven by the increasing investment in automation products across industries, such as heavy manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, and others, according to the report from Fortune Business Insights. Industries are more likely to realize the potential efficiency and productivity that can be achieved through the applications of Industry 4.0, including IoT, which will positively fuel the demand for advanced manufacturing technologies.

Where IT Meets OT

Industry 4.0 is widely described as a confluence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT), along with automation and data exchange among manufacturing end-points, including IoT and cloud computing. While Industry 4.0 is the broad initiative intended to prepare factories for future demands and requirements, IoT provides both the connectivity (between end-point and the factory network) as well as the sensor at the end of the connection.

That may sound like a straightforward implementation, but Paul Miller, principal analyst with Forrester, notes that many manufacturing plants have some antiquated systems that they can't simply unplug or replace. "One of the big challenges in manufacturing is that factory machines can be 20-30 years old, and the manufacturer has to retrofit machines that were never designed to be networked," he explains.

Predictably, a market for retrofitting sensors has emerged, along with multiple sensors on each factory endpoint. "The sensor does the direct measurements–vibration, noise or temperature– none of which requires you to change the machine at all," Miller says. "Sensors can also infer from other sensors what's happening inside a machine. The combo of three sensors allows you to make an inference."

Find out more about the EXOR smart factory in the Intel Newsroom.
Learn more about edge computing in the IoT Solution Integrator webinar, “Accelerate Innovation with AI at the IoT Edge.”