Inside the Rise of 5G Industrial Automation Networking

Inside the Rise of 5G Industrial Automation Networking
Inside the Rise of 5G Industrial Automation Networking

The idea of wireless industrial automation has long been an elusive goal on the wish list of many users. Elusive until now, that is, as 5G is starting to make this goal a reality.  Companies are already starting to deploy private 5G networks within plants and are seeing increases in performance, determinism, low latency, and reliability.  One example of this was a demonstration at the 2018 Hannover Messe, where Beckhoff and Huawei demonstrated high-speed and deterministic coordinated motion over 5G wireless communications. With the power of 5G, it will likely not be the last example.

There are three major benefits of 5G networks, according to IEEE:

  • High Data Rates (1-20 Gbit/s)
  • Low Latency (1 ms)
  • Larger Network Capacity & Scalability 

There is a growing interest in the application of 5G in manufacturing.  During the Hannover Messe 2019, the 5G Arena had strong attendance showcasing the latest 5G developments, products and solutions for industry.

The 5G technology is in the process of being deployed by mobile operator networks and is also expected to be widely used for private networks with applications in industrial IoT, enterprise networking, and critical communications.

This trend has been explored by industry research group SNS Worldwide Ltd. in their report on private 5G networks, The Private LTE & 5G Network Ecosystem: 2020 – 2030 – Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies, Industry Verticals & Forecasts. It notes that the very first private 5G networks are being deployed to serve a diverse array of usage scenarios spanning from connected factory robotics and massive-scale sensor networking to the control of AVGs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and AR/VR (Augmented & Virtual Reality). One case in point, noted by SNS, is Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Cars division’s effort to establish a local 5G network to support automobile production processes at its "Factory 56" in Sindelfingen Germany.  SNS Telecom & IT estimates that as much as 30% of investments approximately $2.5 Billion will be directed towards the build-out of private 5G networks, which will become preferred wireless connectivity medium to support ongoing Industry 4.0 revolution for the automation and digitization of factories, warehouses, ports and other industrial premises, in addition to serving other applications.


5G Alliance for connected industries and automation

What is making 5G such a gamechanger for these industries? The 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) serves as the central and global forum for addressing, discussing, and evaluating relevant technical, regulatory, and business aspects with respect to 5G for the industrial domain. The 5G Alliance notes that one of the main differences between 5G and previous generations of cellular networks lies in 5G’s strong focus on machine-type communication and the Internet of Things (IoT). The capabilities of 5G thus extend far beyond mobile broadband with ever increasing data rates. In particular, 5G supports communication with reliability and very low latencies, while also facilitating massive IoT connectivity. The organization comments that manufacturing, in particular, may see 5G having a disruptive impact as related building blocks, such as wireless connectivity, edge computing or network slicing, find their way into future smart factories. The organization has published the 5G-ACIA White Paper,  5G for Connected Industries and Automation providing an overview of 5G’s basic potential for connected industries, in particular the manufacturing and process industries, and outline relevant use cases, requirements, and other information. 

Verizon & Corning 5G-powered factory of the future

Another example of the looming impact of 5G comes from Verizon. They have installed 5G Ultra Wideband service in Corning’s fiber optic cable manufacturing facility in Hickory, NC. Corning will use Verizon’s 5G technology to test how 5G can enhance functions, such as factory automation and quality assurance, in one of the largest fiber optic cable manufacturing facilities in the world.  The companies are also working together to co-innovate 5G-enabled solutions that can potentially revolutionize the way goods and services are produced.  5G’s low latency, fast speeds and high bandwidth can improve the manufacturing process, enhancing capabilities like machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR). Engineers from Verizon and Corning will explore how the factory of the future can use 5G to speed data collection, allow machines to communicate with each other in near real time, and wirelessly track and inspect inventory using 5G-connected cameras. They’ll also test how 5G can improve the function of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) by helping them move more efficiently around the factory floor.

“5G will usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution enabling massive steps forward in robotics and automation that will transform supply chain management and create smarter and more efficient factories,” said Tami Erwin, executive vice president and CEO of Verizon Business Group. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with Corning to explore how 5G will ultimately reshape the way the manufacturing industry operates.”

"Together, Verizon and Corning engineers expect to break new ground by identifying which 5G-enabled capabilities offer the most promise in a manufacturing environment," said Dr. Claudio Mazzali, senior vice president of technology for Corning’s Optical Communications business segment. "This builds on our collaboration with Verizon in a powerful way: Verizon turned to Corning for the fiber, cable, and optical connectivity innovations that are bringing their 5G network to life. Now Verizon is bringing 5G capabilities to a plant where those cable innovations are produced – completing the circle.”

The value of digitalization

Industry is learning that there is great value in digitalization, which brings a much wider range of information into industrial automation and business systems.  A big challenge is connecting large numbers of sensors, machines, and equipment information that can be used by industrial automation business systems. Hardwiring sensors and machines is an expensive process and, particularly with ethernet, requires an infrastructure of routers that need to be maintained, while also complicating cybersecurity.  Current industrial wireless methods offer some benefits, but are not mainstream technologies, whereas a commercial technology such as 5G can be deployed broadly. 

On premise, 5G communications may well be a major means to efficiently and economically bridge a diverse range of data into systems.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. In addition to working at various large companies (e.g., Sundstrand, Johnson Controls, and Wago), Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, where he designed controls, automation systems, and software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. He was also a product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and president of an industrial control software company.

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