The rapid advancement of 5G and AI (artificial intelligence) is making the futuristic factory an increasing reality! Bosch Rexroth, a German company and the pioneer of Industry 4.0, believes that the production lines and facility layouts in the future will be highly flexible to support highly customized product manufacturing. In the factory of tomorrow, only the walls and roofs are fixed. All the other facilities need to be moved frequently. In order to meet this demand, a futuristic factories will need high-efficiency and flexible wireless communication devices to match various portable devices.
5G Communications to Empower Manufacturing with Enhanced Competitiveness
At the 2019 Hannover Messe trade fair, Siemens, a German industrial heavyweight, showcased a futuristic production scenario of “from automation to autonomous production”. The components, semi-finished goods, and robotic arms for assembly are all placed on Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). These AMRs deliver the components, semi-finished products, and robotic arms to the personnel workstations based on the production requirements, and then complete product manufacturing/assembly through human-machine collaboration.
Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) indicated that 5G communications technology has three advantages: ultrahigh bandwidth and high speed (eMBB), ultrahigh reliability and low latency (uRLCC), and large-scale communication (mMTC), compared to the existing 4G communications technology.
Based on these technical advantages, the future niche applications of 5G communication in the manufacturing field include: robotic control (especially mobile robots), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), quality inspection and real-time control feedback for equipment, and environment and personnel status monitoring/Warning.
As far as robotic control applications are concerned, the development of industrial robots in the manufacturing field includes: integration of multiple sensors (e.g., vision), combination of the edge (robot body) with cloud control, autonomous updates from machine learning, enhanced safety in human-machine collaboration, multi robot collaboration, and autonomous mobility. To realize these functions and applications, a stable, high-speed, and low-latency wireless communication environment and ecosystem are required. 5G communications technology is the most promising wireless communication solution.
Industrial Robots + 5G = Three Benefits
The combination of industrial robots and 5G provides the following benefits:
1. Rapid deployment, replacement and enhancement of the capability of individual robots, and the capability of multi-robot collaboration
Combining 5G, Internet-of-Things (IOT), machine learning, and cloud platforms, it can quickly update control software according to different product and process requirements. And also it can transfer the machine learning results, new control schemes, and skills of individual robots to other robots located in the same factory. The information transmission through 5G empowers better efficacy of the integrated working systems to accomplish tasks.
2. Greater safety in human-machine collaboration
Through 5G communication, the robot can transmit a variety of sensing data to a remote server or cloud for processing, and then use feedback control to ensure the safety of surrounding cooperators. In addition, through remote real-time control, the robot can work in special environments (such as high temperature, high pressure, and radiation, etc.) for a long time.
3. Better AMR performance and fleet management
Compared with traditional Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) that require pre-set magnetic tracks and signs and can only run on fixed lines, AMRs can travel freely in a defined space, and its application flexibility is greatly improved. In order to allow AMRs to travel freely, wireless communication is used to sense the environment, process data and real-time control, so as to automatically guide and avoid collisions in the defined space. In most cases, there will be several to hundreds of AMRs operating in the same space (such as factories or warehouses). Therefore, a central fleet management system and wireless communication are required to command AMRs. 5G, which is an important wireless communication application program that improves the efficiency of fleet management, will help improve AMR performance.
Success in Other Countries - Great Expectations for 5G Ecosystem in Taiwan
There are already many success stories of 5G communication applied to manufacturing industry around the world. For example, Nokia’s “factory of the future" in Oulu, Finland, introduced many Industry 4.0 and 5G applications, which increased overall productivity by 30% and shortened the time to market for new products by 50%. This factory has been selected as one of Lighthouse of global smart factories by an expert panel from the consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum. The factory introduces a variety of 4G/5G smart manufacturing solutions including IoT analytics, edge computing, digital twins, AGVs, industrial robots, machine vision personnel assistance, and AR.
For Taiwan industries, 5G can improve the operating efficacy of certain smart manufacturing applications and accelerate the proliferation of practical cases of smart manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing is also an important vertical application field for 5G in the future. It can be promoted through related application solutions to assist the development of the 5G ecosystem.