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Factories of the Future

How 5G can enable the factory of the future
20/08/2019 00:00:00
To ensure that 5G can truly open wireless connectivity for factory automation, it is essential there is close collaboration between information and communication technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) to understand the challenges and requirements of a flexible smart manufacturing approach from both sides.
Until now, IT and OT have gone about business in their own domains. This is changing with the arrival of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). Embedded sensors and software in physical industrial machines delivering data to be analyzed to optimize the manufacturing process is blurring the lines between them. IT and OT must work together to ensure greater agility and productivity, while ensuring the safety of employees.

Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, is already beginning to transform manufacturing with super-efficient, connected smart factories. 5G will ultimately accelerate these processes. In the not too distant future, we will see manufacturers roll out easily configurable, highly flexible and modular production systems operating on-demand. They will provide enhanced data mining from connected devices, which can be fed into digital twins, for example, to provide production line simulations.

The flavors of 5G
To expand broadband capabilities and provide advanced connectivity to the industrial sector, 5G supports three key types of communication: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communication (mMTC) and ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC). Initial deployments depend on vendor roadmaps and the availability of features in vendors’ equipment.

“Currently, the priority is for launching the eMBB part of 5G, as most operators are opening up their commercial 5G networks this year, or the beginning of 2020,” says Berna Sayrac, Coordinator of Research Programs at Orange Labs in the field of critical IoT.

It is crucial, however, that IT and OT departments work together and understand each other's requirements to make the most of 5G. “It is vital from the beginning that all relevant stakeholders, including industrial companies, equipment vendors and operators, collaborate together to understand the different use cases, challenges and needs. This is essential in helping to ensure a seamless transition to 5G deployments,” adds Sayrac.

The business cases for 5G are potentially extremely diverse and can be implemented using the concept of network slicing. This approach delivers multiple network events over a single shared infrastructure. When it comes to controlling and managing remote factory equipment and assets, a network slice can be used for data transmission between different production sites. Slicing will also enable manufacturers to monitor and control various groups of robots on production lines, for example.

Note that Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) applications, such as smart meters and asset trackers, are also an important part of IoT connectivity for Industry 4.0. These applications are being served today by non-3GPP technology solutions, such as LoRa, Sigfox, etc., a situation that is expected to continue within the 5G era.
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