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How MIPI Alliance is Enabling the Smart Factories of the Future

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MIPI specifications are helping to create advanced capabilities in smart factories.

Ever since the invention of the first modern industrial factory system by Richard Arkwright in the 1770s, industrial manufacturing processes have been subject to continuous innovation, quickly adopting the latest technologies to ensure ever-greater efficiency, productivity, and end-product quality.

Today, the adoption of IoT solutions into the next generation of factories (commonly referred to as industrial IoT, or IIoT), leveraging the latest developments in machine vision, robotics, and machine learning is set to continue this advancement. A study by Deloitte and the Manufacturer's Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) determined that the adoption of IoT solutions into factories, creating what are generally referred to as "smart factories," will drive a step-change in productivity across all large scale, repetitive, process-driven manufacturing industries such as automotive, chemicals, electronics, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical, to name a few.

The development of the many cyber-physical systems that underpin these smart factory solutions will be dependent on the use of high-resolution cameras to power machine vision, high-resolution displays to support rich user interfaces, and optimized command and control interfaces to connect sensors, actuators, and other components to enable ever more advanced machine learning and control. In this article, we explain how MIPI specifications, which are widely implemented within billions of mobile devices, are being leveraged by developers to achieve these advanced capabilities in smart factories.

What is a smart factory?

According to Gartner, the term “smart factory” describes the application of different combinations of modern technologies to create a hyper-flexible, self-adapting manufacturing capability.

The smart factory relies on the use of highly digitized industrial processes that collect and share data through the use of connected machines and other devices. Using real-time analytics, data is used across wider manufacturing processes to proactively address production issues, improve efficiency, enhance logistics and respond to new demands. 

The growth of this market is being driven by technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, cloud computing, machine vision, and robotics. By connecting the physical and digital worlds, the smart factory can monitor and optimize an entire industrial process.

Benefits of MIPI specifications in smart factories

MIPI Alliance develops interfaces that connect embedded components (cameras, displays, sensors, and communications modules) within electronic devices. MIPI specifications, conformance test suites, debug tools, software, and other resources allow developers to create innovative connected devices while at the same time reducing time to market and cost.

A number of MIPI specifications provide key benefits to smart factory applications to enable industrial devices with machine vision, displays, wireless connectivity, low pin/wire counts, and low electromagnetic interference (EMI).

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MIPI specifications, conformance test suites, debug tools, software, and other resources help developers to create innovative connected devices.

These MIPI specifications are beneficial to many Industrial IoT designs:

  • MIPI CSI-2® connects advanced cameras and other sensors, enabling low-power vision inferencing and edge AI within camera components.
  • MIPI DSI-2℠ connects advanced displays and supports display partitioning to enable low-power standby modes.
  • MIPI I3C® provides a low-power, two-wire interface to connect and control sensors and other peripheral components. It supports low-power features, such as interrupts, hot-join, and synchronous timing control.
  • MIPI C-PHY℠ and MIPI D-PHY℠ physical interfaces reduce line and pin counts and generate low EMI, helping camera and display devices conform to EMC requirements.
  • MIPI A-PHY℠ provides an ultra-reliable, long-reach (≤15m) serial interface that uses coax or STP cables to connect high-speed sensors in large industrial machines.
  • MIPI RFFE℠ enables a widely deployed interface for wireless connectivity.
  • MIPI software and debug specifications and resources provide a standardized framework to accelerate device design and development.

Example use of MIPI specifications in the smart factory

Smart factory solutions will be built upon a broad range of industrial devices. We’ve highlighted a few examples to demonstrate the applicability of MIPI specifications to a number of use cases.

Quality control using machine vision

Machine vision is essential to the many manufacturing processes used to inspect products during critical stages, such as checking package integrity, fill levels, safety seal integrity, and labeling. The use of machine vision is critical to ensuring product quality and a key driver of productivity. The use of high-resolution cameras is essential for these applications and other vision-based AI functionality.

MIPI specifications that enable machine vision include:

  • MIPI CSI-2 over MIPI C-PHY, D-PHY, or A-PHY to provide a highly scalable protocol to connect high-resolution cameras.
  • MIPI I3C to provide a low-complexity, two-wire command and control interface for cameras and other components.

Automated guided vehicles

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are used within many manufacturing processes to transport materials around a site, following predefined routes using radio beacons, cameras, and lasers for navigation. The most advanced AGVs can contain hundreds of sensors and generate huge volumes of data.

MIPI specifications that support AGVs include:

  • MIPI CSI-2 over C-PHY, D-PHY, or A-PHY to connect high-resolution cameras (or lidars), enabling vision inferencing and machine vision for navigation around a factory floor.
  • MIPI A-PHY to provide a long-reach (≤15m), the ultra-reliable physical interface within large industrial machines to link components within noisy EMI environments.
  • MIPI I3C to provide a low-complexity, two-wire interface to connect the sensors and actuators within the vehicle.
  • MIPI RFFE within the vehicle's radio communications module to enable wireless connectivity to operation systems.

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Automated guided vehicles are used in warehouse logistics centers.

Industrial control systems with advanced user interfaces

Machine control systems are becoming more advanced, connecting machines to a wider industrial process and providing rich user interfaces to allow operator monitoring and control.

MIPI specifications that support machine control systems include:

  • MIPI DSI-2 over C-PHY, D-PHY, or A-PHY to drive high-resolution display panels.
  • MIPI Touch over MIPI I3C to enable advanced touchscreen-based user interfaces.
  • MIPI I3C provides a low-complexity, two-wire interface to connect user interface components such as pushbuttons, LEDs, and buzzers.

Conclusion

The adoption of smart factory solutions will present huge opportunities to manufacturers across many industries to improve production efficiency and product quality. With the adoption of any new technology, a key factor in market success will be the successful design and development of the connected machines and devices upon which these new manufacturing processes will depend. Those developing the most effective solutions, leveraging industry standards that overcome the key challenges outlined in this article, will give themselves the best chance of success.

About MIPI Alliance

Founded in 2003, MIPI Alliance is best known for standardizing the camera and display interfaces used within smartphones. Since then, MIPI specifications have been implemented in billions of mobile devices and are widely supported by IoT developer kits available on the market today. More information about how MIPI Alliance supports the growth of IoT services is available in a recently published white paper, MIPI Alliance: Enabling the IoT Opportunity.

Kevin Yee is chair of the MIPI Marketing Steering Group.

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