Industrial IoT

5G & Industrial Automation: Creating the Factory of the Future

Industry 4.0, Industry-X, Industrial IoT, the Industrial Internet -- take your pick of the terms -- offer tremendous opportunities to transform productivity across many sectors of the economy from manufacturing, to primary industries and more.

By design, and partly through fortune, the emergence of cyber-physical systems, and concomitant advances in component technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine vision, artificial intelligence, robotics and software-driven operating processes, is happening at the same time 5G wireless technology is under development.

In my new white paper, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency 5G for Industrial Automation, I argue that this confluence creates immense opportunities to improve quality, efficiency and adaptability across industrial sectors. Using the “factory of the future” concept and robotic motion control as an example, the paper discusses how, by meeting the performance requirements of the most demanding applications, 5G New Radio (NR) can contribute to more efficient and flexible software-driven production processes.

Developed in consultation with industrial end users, the 3GPP Study on Communication for Automation in Vertical Domains (TR 22.804) has identified a set of performance targets for industrial automation using 5G. These are summarized, according to the use case and across various performance criteria, in the table below.

Table 1: Industrial Automation Performance Requirements for 5G
Use Case
(High Level)
Availability Cycle Time Typical Payload Size # of Devices Typical Service Area
Motion control Printing machine >99.9999% < 2 ms 20 bytes > 100 100 m x 100 m x 30 m
Machine tool >99.9999% < 0.5 ms 50 bytes ~20 15 m x 15 m x 3 m
Packaging machine >99.9999% < 1 ms 40 bytes ~50 10 m x 5 m x 3 m
Mobile robots Cooperative motion control >99.9999% 1 ms 40-250 bytes 100 < 1 km2
Video-operated remote control >99.9999% 10-100 ms 15-150 kbytes 100 < 1 km2
Mobile control
panels with
safety functions
Assembly robots or milling machines >99.9999% 4-8 ms 40-250 bytes 4 10 m x 10 m
Mobile cranes >99.9999% 12 ms 40-250 bytes 2 40 m x 60 m
Process automation
(process monitoring)
>99.99% > 50 ms Varies 10,000 devices per km2
Source: 3GPP, 5G-ACIA

5G does not itself redesign factory production lines or define industrial processes; it can, however, be an enabler of new operating models. To be successful in this, 5G must become embedded in the industrial automation process. In the first instance, this means replicating the functionality of today's wired industrial Ethernet systems to support existing controllers, switches, sensors and actuators. In the second, there is an opportunity to make 5G integral to the evolution of industrial IoT as machines and production lines are themselves re-designed, improved and automated.

To determine performance requirements and incorporate them into the 5G system design, the wireless industry needs to engage with potential users and future customers. A promising development was the formation of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) in April of this year. The 5G-ACIA is an industry group made up of industrial companies, technology vendors and operators that is working to align requirements from different sectors and then to communicate their priorities to 5G technology developers.

This work is invaluable to future users, because it will help ensure that they get the products and capabilities they need, and to 5G technology developers because they will know where to focus R&D investment. An example of this is how the "Industry 4.0" cohort of companies have proposed to use the IEEE Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) Ethernet standard to replace legacy industrial Ethernet systems such as Sercos, PROFINET and EtherCAT. Converging on TSN simplifies the work needed to integrate with 5G, generates economies of scale, and accelerates the development of industrial-grade wireless networks.

— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

kq4ym 6/26/2018 | 9:45:18 AM
Re: Operatoring Yes, it would seem that things could get complicated in planning for the factory of the future. Any complications that could create downtime could get very expensive for the operation and not the least bring lots of problems for the factory manager who would have to account for the automations not working as planned.
DHagar 6/13/2018 | 5:47:02 PM
Re: 5G & Factory of Future @mendyk, that's OK - at least you are thinking about the future!
DHagar 6/13/2018 | 5:46:05 PM
Re: Operatoring Gabriel,  excellent analysis and thoughts on the factory of the future, along with the excellent blog!!

I am working on projects with all-of-the-above and I believe your comments about a mixture of open networks and private applications will likely emerge - for the reasons you state that CSN's will not have the capability to provide all the functions industrial automation will require.

I view that as a good thing that will result in new revenues and opportunities as opposed to a win/lose game among providers in the limited services categories.  This is the vision and type of thinking we need to "create" the future!
mendyk 6/13/2018 | 8:56:26 AM
Re: 5G & Factory of Future Armchair innovation is easy. That's as far as I can take things.
mendyk 6/13/2018 | 8:55:33 AM
Re: Operatoring Sounds like a good opportunity for operators, but as you say, right now most of them seem to be heading in the wrong direction. Managed services -- even assuming a high level of process automation -- require a deep bench of skilled professionals. Most operators seem to be focused on headcount reduction. This is going to be a big issue -- read problem -- at some point.
Gabriel Brown 6/13/2018 | 4:48:28 AM
Re: Operatoring Re: the operator role. Very good question.

Short answer is yes, there are big opportunities. Long answer is... it's complicated.
  • Managed-services for private mobile networks will be important. Several types of operator could fulfil this role.
  • If the enterprise uses spectrum sub-leased from an MNO,  there's an immediate relationship. If it uses unlicensed or other spectrum (CBRS bands, say), the enterprise can act alone, but may still want a managed service.
  • Linking on-premises private networks to the wide-area network is an obvious role for an MNO
  • A neutral host provider at a venue could provide services back to the operator, so the MNO doesn't have to build out it's own network

In the factory of the future example, all of the above could apply. Specifically, for production line automation, where you need high availability, low latency, low packet loss, etc., and where the cost of downtime is very high, it could be that the 5G network is integrated and operated by whoever operates the factory machinery and production line. That way you have accountability. At this point, I don't think operators are geared up to meet that kind of SLA.
DHagar 6/12/2018 | 7:04:49 PM
5G & Factory of Future Excellent post and mendyk, we need to team up - you are a great innovator.  This IS the future - we all just need to create it!
mendyk 6/12/2018 | 10:02:58 AM
Operatoring Gabe -- Is there a role for network operators in all this?
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