By Juan Pedro Tomás
Global manufacturers are starting to adopt 5G to improve manufacturing processes. 5G technology offers manufacturers the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality for troubleshooting, and the Internet of Things (IoT). 5G technologies provide the network characteristics that are essential for manufacturing. Low latency and high reliability are needed to support critical applications in the manufacturing field. Several top manufacturers are already taking advantage of 5G implementation to improve operations in different industrial environments. Here we briefly describe some implementations by large manufacturers globally.
Automotive giant Volkswagen has deployed a private 5G network at its main plant in Wolfsburg in Germany. Nokia has supplied the networking equipment for the project, which is being presented as a pilot, and utilizes the dedicated 3.7-3.8 GHz industrial band in Germany. The network covers the main “production development centre” and the “pilot hall; in the longer term, it will be expanded to cover large parts of the 6.5 square-kilometre plant site. The Wolfsburg plant is home to around 5,000 industrial robots, plus other machines and systems; Volkswagen said it expects 5G to deliver the kind of ultra latency and reliability (URLLC) to connect its production lines.
Swedish telecoms vendor Ericsson showed the benefits that the deployment of 5G could have in an industrial environment at its own factory in Estonia. In a project carried out in partnership with Nordic carrier Telia, Ericsson deployed automated guided vehicles (AGVs), AR tech and environmental sensors at its 25,000 square meter industrial facility in Tallinn.
Ericsson explained AGVs are being used to move components from the warehouse to the production line. The Swedish vendor noted that the AGVs cut the time taken to deliver parts and the risk of damage, using the cellular network to livestream data and video, and open doors on their route. AR glasses and terminals are being used to troubleshoot, providing interactive testing of components quality control processes. Meanwhile, Ericsson also highlighted that environmental monitoring sensors scrutinize levels of moisture, temperature, noise, light and carbon dioxide with the aim of improving working conditions for workers.
Earlier this year, Edzcom and Nokia announced plans to build a private Standalone (SA) 5G network for fellow Finnish firm Konecranes at the company’s factory in the municipality of Hyvinkää about 50 kilometers north of Helsinki.
Konecranes manufacturers and services cranes and lifting equipment. The new private 5G network will be geared towards “advanced R&D work” for factories and ports. Nokia said it is supplying a new radio, core, and transport network to the facility in Hyvinkää. The Hyvinkää upgrade for Konecranes covers the firm’s “smart factory, research and development facilities, and test cranes”, according to Nokia. The Finnish vendor said: “One use case example is the deployment of high-resolution wireless cameras to improve load handling safety, site security and operational integrity.”
Last year, GSMA, China Mobile, Huawei and Haier, a Chinese manufacturer of home appliances and consumer electronics, completed a proof of concept encompassing the deployment of edge computing, 5G and machine vision into Haier’s manufacturing environment.
Stainless steel refrigerators, one of the main products manufactured by Haier, can suffer imperfections through scratching and denting during the course of the production process. Therefore, Haier manually checks every refrigerator that comes from the production line for defects in the stainless steel, which can be a time-consuming task. The use of edge computing and 5G means that near-real time analysis takes place so refrigerators can be returned to the production line almost instantly.
Huawei and China Mobile implemented a 5G connected MEC architecture inside the Haier factory to enable high-volume image processing with minimal latency to ensure no delays to the production line.
The Haier factory has mounted a 500W industrial camera onto a robotic arm, with high intensity lighting, which is able to scan the refrigerators as they come off the production line. The 5G network is required to transfer the large images produced by the industrial camera whilst maintaining low latency.
John Deere, a global manufacturer of agricultural machinery headquartered in Moline, Illinois, views 5G, which it will initially deploy in Non-Standalone mode with plans to transition to Standalone 5G as the endpoint technology becomes available, as providing more capabilities than Wi-Fi along with the ability to gain production line flexibility by switching from wired to low-latency wireless connections.
John Deere spent nearly US$546,000 for five CBRS Priority Access Licenses in Rock Island, Illinois; Scott County, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; Polk County, Iowa; and Black Hawk County, Iowa. The work being done in the US using CBRS spectrum will “demonstrate the value proposition” of 5G, and inform future investments in other geographies. “That’s the work we’re undertaking now is to understand the pros and cons of sub-leasing spectrum or taking part of some public spectrum,” the firm’s Industry 4.0 Lead Kiel Ronning recently told Enterprise IoT Insights. “A lot of this comes down to how do you get some level of control and how is that network established.”
Earlier this year, Ford Motor Company said that its engine plant in Valencia, Spain, is to benefit from Ericsson 5G connectivity in a new European Commission and European ICT industry-backed initiative to drive Industry 4.0 momentum. Autonomous automated guided vehicles (AGV) fleet management, smart AGV operations based on human gesture recognition and virtual reality (VR) applications are the main next-generation capabilities to be tested at the facility.
Edge computing, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence are among the technologies that Ericsson connectivity will enable for the pilot. Ericsson’s Radio Access Network (RAN) and Core solutions for 5G Standalone New Radio (NR) standalone will be provided through a dedicated 5G Standalone network deployed at the plant, which employs about 900 people.
Since 2018, German automobile manufacturer Audi and Ericsson have been testing the use of 5G wireless and network technology for the production of vehicles. In 2020, the two companies presented a further example of how to use 5G in automobile production: An industrial robot installs an airbag module into the steering wheel of an Audi.
The robot cell is protected by safety sensors. As soon as a human hand breaks through the cell’s light curtain, the robot stops automatically. The high-frequency (fieldbus) communication required for this is facilitated by the very low latency time, i.e. an end-to-end delay of roughly one millisecond. Thanks to 5G technology, interaction between humans and machine is now possible wirelessly as well. “5G combines all points in our production environment and this leads to enormous improvements in flexibility and connectivity and shows how humans and robots can work together safely,” said Head of Planning Body Shop Automation Technology, Audi Neckarsulm, Arjen Kreis.
In April of 2021, GE Research, the technology development arm of the General Electric Company (GE), announced a collaboration with Verizon Business to create a cross industry testbed powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband. By tapping into these 5G capabilities, the teams at GE Research can execute on their vision of creating next generation healthcare, energy, and aviation applications.
“The superior network speed and capacity of 5G networks will allow us to take full advantage of a multitude of digital technologies to transform industrial assets and operations,” Hasan added. “From AI and machine learning to digital twins and autonomous technologies, 5G can accelerate the path to everything from self-driving cars and digital health to more resilient, reliable energy grids powered by more carbon-free energy assets like intelligent wind farms,” said GE Research’s 5G Mission Leader, Dr. SM Hasan.
In November 2020, Bosch announced the installation of a 5G campus network into operation. At its Industry 4.0 lead plant in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, the company said it was expecting to manufacture under previously unheard-of conditions, with data being transferred extremely reliably and ultra-fast, and machines reacting almost instantaneously. For the first time, wireless implementation will be possible for critical applications that require absolute precision and safety, the German firm said.
“Campus networks give us control – over what happens in the factory and over how data is transferred both within and beyond the factory walls,” said board of management member and CDO/CTO at Bosch, Michael Bolle. Bosch set up the network together with Nokia.
“We will gradually roll 5G out to our roughly 250 plants around the world,” Bolle added. The locations where Bosch will be setting up 5G networks in the coming months include its research campus in Renningen, Germany. The company is also developing 5G-capable products and launching its first solutions for industrial use.
Household appliances and electronics manufacturer Arçelik Global, owners of the Beko and Grundig brands, recently announced the deployment of the first private celluar network in Turkey, as an LTE-based setup with a 5G-upgrade option. It has engaged with Nokia and Türk Telekom on the project to install an “industrial-grade 5G-ready” private setup at a washing machine manufacturing facility in Çayırova.
Arçelik will use Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) solution, which combines radio and core networks, plus edge compute components and a number of analytics modules. Nokia is also to provide solution design, deployment, and on-going managed services.
The scope of the new project for Arçelik covers “pervasive, reliable, low-latency coverage” throughout the Çayırova plant, to connect and orchestrate automated guided vehicles (AGVs) on the shop floor, used for component logistics. The network will support high-accuracy indoor positioning for real-time asset tracking, plus new video analytics-based applications for site safety and security.
Nokia and Arcelik will develop additional use cases, they said, listing target applications: “augmented and virtual reality, digital twins, inventory control, safety and facility management, quality control, high-resolution video for remote inspection, and facility-wide voice and video communication”.