What will the Smart Factory look like in the 5G era?

The ultra-high wireless speed of 5G will bring an upgrade revolution to everything in society. So, what impact will 5G communication technology bring to smart manufacturing? What will smart factories look like in the 5G era?

What are the needs of smart manufacturing for 5G networks?

1. Why smart manufacturing needs wireless communication

Obviously, the real-time communication between the cloud platform and factory production facilities, the information interaction between massive sensors and artificial intelligence platforms, and the efficient interaction with the human-machine interface all have a variety of communication network requirements and extremely demanding performance requirements in the intelligent manufacturing process. In addition, extremely dependable wireless communication technology is the focus.

From the perspective of the application of high-reliability wireless communication technology in the factory, on the one hand, the wireless production of manufacturing equipment makes it possible for the factory to produce modularized and flexible manufacturing. On the other hand, the wireless network can make the construction and transformation of factories and production lines more convenient, and wireless can reduce a lot of maintenance work and reduce costs.

2. What are the challenges that wireless communication networks face in smart manufacturing applications?

Low-latency applications, such as environmentally sensitive and high-precision manufacturing links, chemical dangerous goods production links, and so on, are particularly common in intelligent industrial automation control systems. The information received by sensors in the intelligent manufacturing closed-loop control system (such as pressure sensor, temperature sensor, and so on) must be communicated through a very low-latency network. And the final data must transmit to the system’s execution devices (such as: robotic arms, electronic valves, heaters, etc.).

In addition, the working range of the automated control system and sensor system in the factory can be from hundreds of square kilometers to tens of thousands of square kilometers, or even distributed deployment.  There may be tens of thousands of sensors and actuators in the production area of a manufacturing plant. That requires the massive connection capability of the communication network as support.

Capabilities of 5G network

Compared with traditional mobile communication technology, 5G will further enhance the user experience. In terms of capacity, 5G communication technology will achieve a 1000-fold increase in mobile data traffic per unit area than 4G. In terms of transmission rate, the typical data rate of a single user will increase by 10 to 100 times, the peak transmission rate can reach 10Gbps (equivalent to 100 times the 4G network rate). For accessibility: the number of networkable devices is increased by 10 to 100 times; in terms of reliability and In terms of energy consumption: energy consumption per bit should be reduced to one-thousandth, and low-power battery life should be increased by 10 times.

Typical 5G manufacturing application scenarios

1. 5G enables industrial AR applications

People will play a larger part in the future smart factory manufacturing process. However, in the future, due to the industry’s high flexibility and versatility, workers on the factory floor would face more demands. Augmented reality AR will play a vital role in promptly meeting the needs of new tasks and industrial activities. It can be utilized in the intelligent manufacturing process in the following scenarios: monitoring and production processes. Remote expert business support, such as remote maintenance; step-by-step help for manufacturing operations, such as manual assembly process guidance.

Auxiliary AR facilities in these applications must be as flexible and portable as possible in order to carry out repair work efficiently. As a result, the device’s information processing function must be relocated to the cloud. The AR gadget simply has connection and display capabilities, and it connects to the cloud via a wireless network. Through the network, the AR device will get relevant information in real-time (for example, production environment data, production equipment data, and troubleshooting guidance information).

The display content of the AR glasses must be synchronized with the movement of the camera in the AR device to avoid loss of visual range. Usually, the response time from visual movement to AR image is less than 20ms, there will be better synchronization, so it is required to transmit data from the camera to the cloud to the cloud backhaul of the AR display content to be less than 20mms, except for screen refresh and cloud processing. The wireless network’s two-way transmission delay must be less than 10ms in order to meet the demand for real-time experiences. This is a condition that the LTE network cannot meet.

2. 5G enables wireless automation control

In automation control, an inverted pendulum is a typical application. Many industrial applications use the principle of the inverted pendulum. They are various attitude control of robots, docking control of aerospace ships, and other industrial applications.

When running in 5G mode, the 1ms ultra-low delay of 5G enables the control commands of the inverted pendulum to execute quickly. Abd it only takes 4 seconds for the inverted pendulum to reach a steady state. Through comparison, we can see the great value of 5G low-latency network in automatic control. And the network end-to-end delay is from 50ms for 4G to 1ms for 5G.

The most fundamental application in a manufacturing facility is the automated control. Each sensor makes continuous measurements during the system’s control cycle. And the measurement data transfer to the controller, which sets the actuator. Because a typical closed-loop control process has a cycle of ms or less, the system communication delay must be ms or less to ensure that the control system can accomplish precise control. Simultaneously, there are extremely high-reliability requirements. If there is an excessively long time delay during the manufacturing process, it may result in production downtime and significant financial losses.

Manufacturers use automatic control procedures in a significant number of production connections in large-scale production plants. As a result, a high-density and a vast number of controllers, sensors, and actuators must connect via a wireless network.

3. 5G enables cloud-based robots in factories

Robots in intelligent manufacturing production scenarios must be able to self-organize and interact. The reason is that they need to meet flexible production requirements, which necessitates cloudification. Cloud-based robots, unlike traditional robots, must connect to a cloud control center through a network, run on a platform with extremely high computational capacity, and use big data and artificial intelligence to control production and manufacturing processes in real-time. Check comments about artificial intelligence here: Safe AI and dangerous AI.

The cloud is a type of computing technology. The robot will relocate a huge number of computational and data storage functions to the cloud. It will greatly reduce the robot’s hardware cost and power usage. And, in order to meet the demands of flexible manufacturing, robots must be able to move freely. As a result, wireless communication networks must have exceptionally low latency and excellent reliability during the robot cloudification process.

The 5G network is an ideal communication network for cloud-based robots, and it is the key to enabling cloud-based robots. 5G slice network can provide end-to-end customized network support for cloud robot applications. The 5G network can achieve end-to-end communication delays as low as 1ms and supports 99.999% connection reliability. The powerful network capabilities can greatly meet the challenges of cloud-based robots to delay and reliability.

The processing of the robot’s trajectory information and control data in the manufacturing cloud will help the expansion of the system’s computing power and the energy-saving of the robot platform. The combination of robot production services and manufacturing cloud means real-time collaboration between the basic functions of industrial robots and high-performance computing systems. The 5G slicing network enables this application scenario.

4. Communication requirements between robots and collaborative facilities

In intelligent manufacturing and flexible production, mobile robots are the key enablers. In the production process, coordination and collision-free operation between multiple mobile robots are required, so real-time data exchange between mobile robots is required to meet this demand. There is also a need for communication between mobile robots and peripheral devices. For example, such as cranes or other manufacturing facilities. Therefore, the mobile robot needs to exchange real-time data with the surrounding cooperative facilities.

With the introduction of intelligent manufacturing scenarios, the demand for wireless communication networks in manufacturing has emerged. 5G networks can provide diversified and high-quality communication guarantees for highly modular and flexible production systems. Compared with traditional wireless networks, 5G networks have prominent advantages. These advantages include low latency, high-density and massive connections for factory applications, reliability, and network mobility management. They are the key enablers of intelligent manufacturing.