This year I had the pleasure of attending the Hannover Messe, the world’s leading tradeshow of Industrial Manufacturing and Automation hosting 215.000 visitors. The very evident message of the exhibition was that 5G will fuel revolutionary changes on industrial floors in the forthcoming years.
The only thing fixed about the “Factory of Future” will be the floors, the walls, the ceiling and the wireless communication infrastructure. The rest will mobile! This could be seen at the BoschRexroth booth in a well designed showcase using a small scale factory floor as the stage - powered by a live Nokia 5G network and Qualcomm 5G devices.
Wireless means efficient, agile & intelligent
Today factories predominately use wireline to meet the high performance and reliability needed for automation. But wireline lacks the flexibility to rapidly meet changing production needs driven by volatile market demands. 5G wireless technology provides high throughput, low latency and extreme reliability that meets the requirements served by today’s wireline connectivity in a factory. Only now will it possible to take full advantage of industrial automation.
A well planned, robust, secure and reliable wireless connectivity scheme will create an agile model for manufacturing. It results in less time to deploy new machines, increased efficiency by optimization of the production line configurations, and supports the long tail model via high levels of agility and flexibility when switching from one product to another. A recent Nokia Bell Labs study found an industrial wireless infrastructure has a 2 to 5 times lower Total Cost of Ownership compared to wired connectivity.
Virtualization, giving you the edge
In the current production environment, machines, robots and industrial 3D printers are equipped with significant computing capabilities to do their job. This is where virtualization and edge computing will play a key role for industries. In the future, these locally running computing functions will move to an edge cloud. This will reduce complexity of the manufacturing machines and with it, the resulting capital expenditure and maintenance costs using scalable standard hardware based edge cloud servers.
However, this movement brings stringent requirements towards the communication infrastructure. On one hand, high capacity links are needed to deliver large amount of raw data (sensor readings) from the machines to the control intelligence at the edge of the network. On the other hand the control instructions need to be delivered to the machines with the minimum latency. 5G will be able to provide high capacity, ultra low latency links for these operations to maintain productivity and quality.
Wireless communications can be used to increase efficiency through different types of machine remote control. Everything from automated guided vehicles (AGV’s) transporting goods between buildings, to haptic/tactile feedback in robotic control allowing human operators to be away from hazardous environments. A reliable, secure and responsive wireless connectivity ensures safe and flexible machine control operations.
Video surveillance and analytics
Video analytics applications running in the edge cloud will also play important role in quality assurance of manned workstations, helping to reduce production losses. Initial trials, such as the ones performed in the Nokia Oulu factory confirm this.
Video surveillance coupled with analytics will also increase factory safety. As humans and robots will work together in a factory environment, human safety is paramount. Should a person enter into a dangerous area of a production line, a perimeter alarm should be immediately raised and production activities stopped until the area is cleared. Again, this requires responsive communications such as offered by 5G only. As Nokia and Bosch already demonstrated earlier by coupling advanced interactive robots with wireless perimeter intrusion detection, the safety of factory employees can be significantly enhanced.
But this is only the start. 5G network slicing will provide end-to-end quality of experience and isolation of data traffic for different applications in a factory to meet stringent demands for reliability and latency. For example 5G is designed to achieve simultaneous ultra-low latency of less than 1 millisecond and 99.9999% reliability, making it the optimal mobile technology suitable for Industry 4.0 factory applications.
A smarter factory with AI
Virtualization is complemented by Machine Learning in these environments. Factory management teams can now get a near-real time view of the operating status of the facility at any time by utilizing digital twin technology to optimize the operation and maintenance of physical assets, systems and manufacturing processes. The ML algorithms associated with this will also produce analytical results faster with greater accuracy allowing management to make more informed decisions.
ML driven analytics will also contribute to preventive maintenance and OPEX reduction, by sending maintenance teams only to the machines where sensor readings differ from normal values or specific thresholds that have been set. Here again ML algorithms will be able to identify and predict foreseeable failures and help to set these monitor thresholds and help to avoid long and costly downtimes.
In conclusion, factories of the future will be enabled by virtualization coupled with vastly increased connectivity to link machines, and people, improving processes to create more versatile and more dynamic production capabilities. 5G is the first wireless technology with the high throughput, low latency and extreme reliability that will fuel industrial automation at massive scale, improving the safety and productivity, efficiency for all industries.
Interested in more manufacturing and other industrial applications of 5G?
Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #IoT