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

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