By Dr. Luke Durcan, director, EcoStruxure, Schneider Electric
Lower latency, faster speeds, increased capacity—these words have become the mantra of 5G. More than just talk, the capabilities will soon enable more than 5 million connections on the factory floor, according to ABI Research. Next-generation technologies and those on the cutting edge, like machine learning, AI, AR/VR and robots, require the next-generation network to perform.
In this new industry environment, everything will be connected, processed and digitized. The impact will be as massive as the IoT that 5G supports. The 5G-enabled factory floor is wireless, smart and highly automated. Enhanced mobile broadband, low data, long range, low-power things, ultra-reliable connectivity…these will quicken response time between devices, machines and sensors.
Multi-directional communication will support human-to-robotic collaboration, high-performance edge analytics, predictive maintenance, digital twins and digital performance management. As sensors collect and report real-time data from a massive number of industrial sensors and meters, real-time control is enabled.
Machines could potentially “talk” to each other from outside the factory to inside the factory. For example, a soda distributor could communicate with connected devices inside the factory to know volume. In the longer term, 5G will allow for remove control and, thereby, remote operations.
Disruptive, but positive, impact
We can expect to see a major, positive, disruption in redesigning the production line. Today, automation is delivered via cabling. Wires needs to be deployed everywhere in the factory so industrial networks can respond as rapidly as possible.
5G capabilities untether the floor. Removing wires leads to greater agility and more autonomy. The freedom opens up the possibilities for new configurations and new ways of operating that will result in unprecedented productivity.
Making the factory smarter with 5G
Smart manufacturing is already here, and Schneider Electric is realizing the value. In a trial deployment project with Orange, a global operator and carrier-grade integrator, we’re exploring 5G possibilities in industrial-production processes. At our smart factory in Le Vaudreil, France, we are leveraging 5G and using our EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor application to simplify factory IT operations, improve support to manufacturing and accelerate digitization.
Through better network quality, faster response times and secure indoor coverage, we’re validating a range of use cases. Real-time AR solutions used by maintenance technicians and field workers have been enhanced. Predictive maintenance has been improved through more robust data-analytic processing. Factory robots can now send video streams and sensor input, and receive real-time instructions to perform tasks.
We also expect 5G to take our current augmented-reality applications to the next level. Experiences will improve by seeing and interacting with contextual and real-time information on mobile devices for both production and maintenance applications. Schneider Electric is collaborating on establishing cooperative models for infrastructure investment. Policy impact, stakeholder mapping (smart cities), business and revenue models are being considered.
ABI says, “Early 5G trial deployment projects at companies such as Schneider Electric in France and Germany’s Osram and Mercedes hint that bringing 5G connectivity to the factory floor will decrease maintenance costs by 30% and increase overall equipment efficiency by 7%. While there are many use cases and areas of application for 5G in industrial manufacturing, targeting the enterprise vertical will fundamentally change the value chain associated with 5G. A much closer collaboration between network operators, infrastructure vendors, and manufacturers will be required.”
The 5G ecosystem
So what does this all mean? It means that preparing for 5G integration will take a joint effort internally and externally. Enterprise IT, operations, product-development, lines of business and cybersecurity teams must first align and identify the unique business value 5G can bring.
Each company needs to decide which use case will provide the most ROI. The external ecosystem will then help navigate regulatory environments, specific needs for 5G license ownership and enable you achieve the greatest impact from 5G.