5G: Game Changer for the Industry
Author: Markus Strehlitz
5G does not just bring cat videos to smartphones faster. The digitized and networked industry in particular offers great potential for this mobile communications standard.
The facts are impressive: 10 to 20 times faster than LTE, response times of up to one millisecond and large bandwidths – 5G offers a whole range of clear advantages over the previous mobile communications standards. Mostly, the public discussion is about how they benefit private users. But 5G offers much more than just the ability to download cat videos even faster onto smartphones.
There is great potential in the industrial sector. This especially applies to digitized production or Industrial IoT – i.e., the networking of machines and systems. Features such as those offered by 5G are particularly in demand. “Industrial applications require high connectivity,” says Professor Robert Schmitt, one of the directors of the WZL machine tool laboratory at RWTH Aachen University. He sees 5G as “a game changer for the industrial sector”. IoT applications could be “solved in a new way” by the new generation of mobile communications, Robert Schmitt believes.
5G gets robots up and running
Numerous large companies from the manufacturing sector have begun to tap into the potential. These include carmakers such as VW, Daimler, and BMW, and technology providers such as Bosch and Siemens. They have set up campus networks – i.e., their own 5G networks – for their plants to test the mobile communications standard’s possibilities. This gives them independence in developing their own 5G applications. DEKRA is also testing the possibilities of the 5G standard in Málaga and Klettwitz.
If you look at the specific application scenarios, you see that 5G especially plays to its strengths in mobile robotics. In many projects, the technology is used for communication with driverless transport systems or logistics robots, because uninterrupted radio coverage is important for their use. When mobile robots travel across factory floors, they need a radio network in which they can navigate without delays. With other communication technologies such as wi-fi, there is a risk that the connection is interrupted when switching from one radio cell to the next, bringing the devices to a standstill.
According to Robert Schmitt, 5G also offers the possibility that computing power, which would otherwise be installed on the robot for control purposes, can be outsourced. The controllers are virtualized, so to speak, and moved to specific nodes in the company network. An example of this can be found at the Osram company, which has set up a 5G network for its plant in Schwabmünchen. There, the mobile robots’ complete control and navigation is outsourced to so-called Edge Computing Systems – in other words, to hardware located directly in the production environment.
This has a number of different advantages. Controllers do not have to be replaced on each individual robot. Instead, an update can be carried out centrally. This makes it easier to commission the robots and saves a lot of time.
But 5G not only saves time, it also saves energy. If the robot itself requires less computing power, it also needs to be charged less often. There are calculations according to which the operating time can be extended by up to 20 percent.
AI distinguishes human from pallet
Moreover, thanks to 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) can also be brought into play. Mobile robots equipped with cameras can not only perceive obstacles, but also identify them. For example, they will recognize whether the obstacle is a pallet or a human being, for whom the safety distance must be greater. The AI required for this is installed on a computer in the Edge, and data exchange with the robot takes place in milliseconds via 5G. This enables the robot to react in time.
However, there are other possible applications for 5G in the industrial sector – for example, in augmented reality projects. Here, factory workers are shown additional information for their activities via data glasses. Such applications require short response times and a high data rate because images or videos are also transmitted from a server to the data glasses.
Global interest in 5G
In order to make use of the possibilities of 5G in manufacturing, the conditions here in Germany are quite favorable. By granting private licenses to industrial companies at an early stage, Germany has certainly taken on a pioneering role.
However, there is worldwide interest in 5G for the industrial sector. In a study by Cap Gemini, two-thirds of companies said as early as 2019 that they would like to introduce 5G within two years of availability. The survey polled more than 800 executives from industrial companies around the world. Those already using 5G confirm the potential benefits. Six out of ten of these early adopters say they have increased their efficiency due to 5G. 43 percent report greater flexibility.
Yet, for the time being, these benefits are likely reserved for larger companies. Setting up a campus network involves a lot of effort and large investments. The same applies to the infrastructure required for Edge Computing. In addition, the corresponding projects are complex because a lot of technologies and providers are involved – from network suppliers over hardware and software manufacturers to service providers, who take care of the integration of the entire thing.
“We Need Extremely Short Reaction Times”
DEKRA is setting up a 5G campus network at its test site at the Lausitzring. Uwe Burckhardt, Head of Test and Event DEKRA Lausitzring, explains what they use the mobile technology for and what benefits it brings.
Mr. Burckhardt, why do you need a 5G campus network at the Lausitzring?
Burckhardt: There are several aspects of testing highly automated vehicles for which we want to use 5G technologies. These include the transmission of test and sensor data from test vehicles to our customers, and the testing of vehicle-to-X systems. However, the most important field of application of a 5G campus network at the DEKRA Lausitzring is scenario-based testing. Here, we investigate in a repeatable way how a highly automated vehicle behaves in complex driving situations. We simulate these situations in advance on computers. To validate these simulations, we simulate particularly critical cases on the test track, where the automated vehicle moves in a swarm of moving objects. All objects in the test vehicle’s critical path are so-called soft targets. These are vehicles made of foam that are mounted on mobile plates with wheels – i.e. mobile robots – and travel in a swarm across the test site. A control station controls and guides them. For the necessary communication, we need a 5G “stand-alone” campus network.
Burckhardt: Thanks to 5G, we achieve latencies of less than 10 milliseconds. We need these extremely short reaction times, because the objects in the swarm are traveling at up to 130 km/h and must be safely manageable from the control center.
How far along are you with building the campus network?
Burckhardt: Last year, we carried out preliminary tests with a test frequency and a test system, and proved the technology’s suitability for our application. With this facility, we can cover about one and a half kilometers in north-south extension and also already test productively with a swarm. By the time it’s finished, the full 5G (SA) campus network will include 17 antennas and cover the entire 540-hectare test site. I expect that we will reach this goal in one year.