The 4th Industrial Revolution: Industrial sector is now at the stage of Fourth Revolution (Industry 4.0) which has been triggered by a fusion of technologies such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and robotics. These are blurring the lines between the physical and digital world. The speed of technological breakthroughs in this revolution distinguishes it from its predecessors.
Industry 4.0 is supposed to bring massive benefits such as:
· Massive reduction in setup of production lines and inventories
· Substantial increases in productivity and resource efficiency
· Predictive maintenance of machines
· Zero-touch factory operations
· Significant increases in efficiency of Warehousing and supply-chain
5th Generation Communication (5G)
5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology with a vision that is much greater than just expanding the capabilities of current mobile networks. It is supposed to be a disrupter and provide wireless connectivity for a wide variety of industries such as the manufacturing, healthcare, automotive, and agricultural sectors. To achieve this, 5G supports three essential types of communication: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC).
5G is designed to provide faster data speeds (1 Gbps for hotspots, 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload for wide-area coverage), greater density (1 million connections per sq km), very low network latency (<1 millisecond), ultra-reliability (99.999% for mission critical communications) and mobility at high speeds (up to 500 km/h) that will enable innovative new services across different sectors.
5G-enabled commercial products such as smartphones and home hubs were launched at MWC this year while SK Telecom has already started rolling it out across multiple cell sites in South Korea. Also, NTT DoCoMo has planned the commercial launch of 5G next year to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics. Some trials are currently underway in certain parts of Europe but it is safe to say that 5G is definitely here.
The Convergence of 5G and Industry 4.0
5G doesn’t itself redesign factory production lines or define industrial processes. It can, however, be an enabler of new operating models and technologies. 5G networks offer manufacturers the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of the fusion of technologies.
5G technologies provide the network characteristics essential for manufacturing i.e. Network Slicing, Ultra-Low Latency, High Bandwidth, Connection Density and high reliability to support critical applications and secure ubiquitous connectivity. Manufacturers currently rely on fixed-line networks for these requirements. 5G technology will allow for higher flexibility, lower cost, and shorter lead times for factory floor production reconfiguration, layout changes, and alterations.
3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), the industry body tasked for developing global standards for mobile communications, is currently working on developing the necessary radio technologies and architectural components that will be able to support the Industry 4.0 connectivity requirements.
For Release 16, 3GPP has started a new study on NR Industrial IoT, targeting integration of 5G and TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking). 5G promoters such as Qualcomm are looking to migrate the TSN-enabled Ethernet Transport Layer to 5G.
5G in comparison with other industrial communication technologies
5G, with its ability to create virtual network or ‘slice’, could transform connectivity in the Industrial sector. The idea is that each ‘slice’ can be adapted to a specific usage or the needs of a group of users e.g. favoring critical devices vs. non-critical devices. Each virtual network or ‘slice’ can be isolated so that a cyber-security breach in one ‘slice’ is contained and cannot spread.
It makes 5G a better fit for companies than existing options. Here’s why:
- 4G LTE: It doesn’t support the necessary layer 1-2 performance (scheduling, latency , jitter, redundancy)
- Ethernet: Requires physical caballing between machines increasing failure risks and maintenance needs
- Wi-Fi: Less speed as compared to 5G and more easily hacked
80% of Industrial communication is wired but manufacturers are, now, exploring the possibility of replacing the same with 5G or other wireless technologies to derive additional benefits.
For example, currently, Audi uses Wi-Fi as the main wireless technology at its production facilities and connects its robots primarily via Ethernet. It now wants to make its production ‘more agile and flexible’. Audi has started testing 5G as a way to control its robots. The trials are ongoing and the results have been ‘satisfying’.
5G does meet the demands of Industry 4.0 and enterprises are investing in the same but it will take some more time before the industry fully accepts it. While 5G is the future wired networks such as EtherCAT will continue to dominate the Industrial communication scenario at present. Manufacturers will invest in 5G and several PoCs will be worked upon in collaboration with the right stakeholders to satisfy themselves about 5G and see the benefits in action.
The key to achieving the enormous potentials from the amalgamation of Industry 4.0 and 5G is collaboration between stakeholders from the manufacturing and mobile industry ecosystems.