Industrial 5G: Impact on Factory Automation

Automation and control applications are sharply in focus as one of primary beneficiaries of new 5G wireless network technologies.

The roll-out of 5G wireless technology is expected to make an outsized impact on automation and control applications, with its strong focus on machine-type communications and support for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Unprecedented reliability and very low latencies add to the basic potential of Industrial 5G in manufacturing, even though the main technology building blocks and implementation challenges haven’t been fully resolved.

Industrial 5G Basics

The 5G communications standard offers much higher bandwidth and ability for more data to be sent simultaneously than with 4G or earlier wireless standards. According to Siemens, estimates start at 10 gigabits per second, 10 times more than 4G, along with substantially lower latency of greater reliability than current mobile networks and support for a higher number of connected devices.

5G, 5G networks, automation and control, Siemens, industrial application, factories

New 5th generation wireless networks offer industry enormous potential. Unprecedented reliability and very low latencies as well as the comprehensive IIoT connectivity of Industrial 5G all will make it much easier to create future-oriented applications in industry. (Image source: Siemens)

The basics of Industrial 5G applications include support for three different types of factory communication: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC).

Enhanced mobile broadband communications is expected to leverage 5G’s high data rates and enhanced coverage, compared to 4G, to open up wireless applications in areas such as augmented and virtual reality. Possible uses include overlays on smart glasses for assembly line workers.

Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC) is designed to provide wide area coverage and enable a huge number of IoT devices (some reports indicate as many as one million devices) to be connected per square kilometer. mMTC communications is intended to offer connectivity that features low software and hardware requirements from the connected devices, and support for low-energy, battery-optimizing operation.

Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) leverages 5G’s high system reliability and reaction times in the low millisecond range. Potential applications are seen in process automation for closed loop control, mobile control panels with integrated safety functionality, mobile robots and motion control.

Learning About Industrial 5G

Two websites in particular are helpful in learning more about Industrial 5G and its possibilities for smart manufacturing.

One is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, which is comprised of seven telecommunications standard development organizations, which provides its members a forum to produce reports and specifications that define 3GPP technologies. 

A second is the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation, which presents itself as a central global forum for shaping 5G in the industrial domain.

According to a white paper on the 5G ACIA website, “5G has the potential to provide wireless connectivity for a wide range of different use cases and applications in industry. In the long-term, it may actually lead to convergence of the many different communication technologies that are in use today, thus significantly reducing the number of relevant industrial connectivity solutions. Just as there is an ongoing trend towards Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) for established (wired) Industrial Ethernet solutions, 5G is likely to become the standard wireless technology of choice, as it may for the first time enable direct and seamless wireless communication from the field level to the cloud.”

The white paper provides a comprehensive review of 5G key technologies, primary features and also how the basic 5G system architecture has specific benefits for smart manufacturing. But major challenges also must be addressed in order for 5G’s potential to be realized.  One is that the work of standardization bodies and the manufacturing industry are not fully aligned yet.

Other challenges include:

  • How to develop 5G to support in the manufacturing
  • Spectrum and operator models
  • Safety and security
  • 5G-enabled industrial components
  • Establishment of a common language
  • Transparency of 5G connection in the radio access and core network

The white paper concludes that that efforts to enable Industry 4.0 in manufacturing stand to benefit greatly from Industrial 5G. Key technologies of 5G networks offer important benefits that can be applied to Industry 4.0 deployments but, as great as the benefits of 5G for the industrial domain may appear, challenges of equal magnitude must still be addressed.

Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.

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