This article will discuss:
- The application of 5G networks in the industrial facility of the future
- How 5G networks support large-scale deployments of edge computing devices
- How 5G supports and drives innovative efforts of the future
The interconnected facility of the future is expected to be a dynamic environment in which processes and assets share information within a connected network in real-time. Achieving this real-time connectivity requires a network that supports low latency, high bandwidth, and multiple devices communicating at the same time. To achieve this real-time connectivity for large-device deployments, 5G wireless technology offers great potential.
Improving interconnectivity with wireless networks
Traditionally, wired networks have been used to connect equipment or assets within facilities. The rationale behind the use of wired networking is its durability and relative resistance to interfering factors such as other networks and – in industrial facilities – electromagnetic waves. Conversely, earlier wireless networks were built for more-domestic applications. They could support connectivity across hundreds of devices but were not reliable enough to deliver the crucial, real-time connectivity that industrial applications require to function.
The move to an interconnected factory defined by Industrie 4.0 means connecting hundreds of devices and multiple pieces of equipment within a facility to remote monitoring applications or edge platforms. Achieving this widespread connectivity is something wired networks cannot provide. Nor will a mix of wired and wireless networks deliver reliability. Thus, improvement in wireless technology for both industrial and domestic applications was required. This is where 5G comes into the picture.
5G networks represent the first iteration of wireless network technology built for heavy industrial applications. Compared to 4G, 5G at its full potential is capable of delivering data transfer speeds that are faster than 4G. It also leverages decentralization which ensures facilities relying on 5G get reliable low latency and high-bandwidth communications that can support crucial real-time applications.
5G core networks also provide answers to solving the question of determinism when utilizing wireless networks for Industrie 4.0 applications. Deterministic networking ensures that the exact time an asset receives sent data packets is a known metric, thus allowing industrial applications to function in real-time without data-transfer delays.
The improved connectivity that 5G offers is also inclusive of the number of assets that can connect to its network without resulting in lagging. 5G brings unparalleled network coverage for thousands of devices – unlike 4G and wired networks. Expansive coverage means utilizing 5G for greenfield facilities will be a more affordable initiative when compared to managing expansive connectivity projects with wired networks.
The 5G communications network and edge computing
Edge computing provides answers to the questions of how to capture data from processes and previously uncharted territories. Edge computing also enables real-time data analysis through the decentralization of analytical resources, enabling industrial facilities to pursue and implement lights-out strategies. Although decentralization is the primary concept behind the edge, edge devices are expected to have the capacity to communicate with centralized cloud platforms, and achieving this requires a stable network.
5G provides the stability and speed required to support the interactions between the edge and the cloud. Future facilities will leverage the expansive networking 5G provides to facilitate the real-time interconnectivity across edge devices, IoT deployments, robots, and autonomous systems with industrial cloud platforms.
Currently, the automotive industry leverages the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G and the decentralization of edge devices to transfer big data sets and drive Industrie 4.0 strategies. For example, in Germany, the government has allocated private 5G spectrums to automotive manufacturing giants such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz. These automakers utilize 5G networks alongside edge devices to optimize supply chain and material handling logistics, and for condition-monitoring purposes.
In the case of Audi, 5G networks support the autonomous application of robots to accurately produce Audi vehicles. The precision that robots offer and the deterministic transfer of operational data using 5G networks ensure real-time and smart manufacturing occurs within Audi’s facilities. For Mercedes-Benz, 5G is integrated into the company’s automated quality-control process to deploy autonomous systems seamlessly. An example is the deployment of automated guided vehicles which run the material handling process within the company’s manufacturing facilities. According to Ola Kallenius, chairman of the board at Daimler and Mercedes-Benz, 5G is enabling Mercedes-Benz to improve the management of its resources drive through a connected, flexible manufacturing environment.
What does the future of 5G and wireless technology in industrial sectors look like?
The short answer to the above question is that 5G will help develop interconnected facilities to support the application of advanced digital-transformation strategies. The longer answer involves how individual facilities will apply 5G to support Industrie 4.0 initiatives – along the concepts of predictive maintenance, data-driven plant production optimization, remote monitoring, and improving safety.
The future of 5G is to provide extensive connectivity support for the smart factories, smart retail facilities, warehouses, and cities that are currently being designed. The speed and real-time connectivity that 5G promotes will ensure crucial real-time interactions occur without hindrance, and human operators will no longer need to babysit smart systems.
5G networks are also expected to support the deployment of smart vehicles and tracking systems that are expected to interact with digital-twin platforms or remote-monitoring applications. The real-time transfer of data across the monitored asset and the monitoring platform provides multiple process optimization opportunities for enterprises.
The future of 5G and wireless technology is closely intertwined with the adoption of digital-transformation solutions across the industrial sector. Successful implementations of 5G across this sector will lead to the development of multiple case studies which will form the framework for adopting 5G to improve productivity and customer-satisfaction levels.