Up to now, control units with emergency stop switches have had to be permanently wired to the machine for safety reasons. As a result, said May, it is standard that each machine requires its own control unit that can only be operated directly on the machine. “5G provides the power to disengage this fixed connection,” he said. “With 5G, safety-critical tasks can also be performed wirelessly in accordance with standards for the first time. Operators can operate or retrofit several machines, one after the other, with one wireless control unit. This reduces the hardware costs for permanently installed operator interfaces and simplifies the retrofitting, operation, and diagnosis of machines.”

According to Tardioli, there are at least three aspects of 5G that will enable enhanced mobility and related use cases. “First, there is the actual wireless coverage,” he said. “There are scenarios where other wireless technologies, like Wi-Fi, do not provide the needed coverage into specific manufacturing environments. In addition, 5G technology will bring the seamless coverage of indoor and outdoor environments that will enable use cases that require sustained connectivity in the overall production flow.”

The second aspect of 5G is combining the enhanced coverage with the ability to transfer large datasets very fast. This, Tardioli explained, will open the possibility to connect new categories of devices. “What previously could only be integrated through a wireline connection to achieve the needed performance can now become fully mobile.”

Third, combining the enhanced coverage with low-latency communication will again open a new set of use cases where a mobile device or equipment can benefit from always being connected. “Combining this with real-time analytics and machine learning capabilities enables new concepts of control and action,” Tardioli said.

Automated processes on the factory floor will enjoy improved reliability as a result of the enhanced connections 5G provides. “5G supports an increasingly moving and trackable shop floor and is especially relevant to the adoption of AGVs and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs),” explained Josefsson. “Just to ensure service quality for AGVs, vendors are setting up their own sub-networks at customer's sites, increasing network fragmentation. Arguably, most existing factory networks aren't reliable enough to support AMRs and require constant communication to continue and adapt routes safely. Secure mobility and 5G will become increasingly important as automation cells and workstations become moving ‘islands’ rather than tethered lines, delivering on operational agility,” he said.

May agrees. “The intelligent devices of today and tomorrow communicate wirelessly and their location is completely independent of data lines. The factory of the future must and will be extremely flexible. Only the floor, roof, and walls are fixed. Users can move machines, plants, and other devices and can assemble new production lines within a very short time. This only works if the machines can communicate wirelessly from any location within the hall without the need for cabling and without a new installation — securely, in real time, and at high data rates.”

The IoT and 5G

The Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled manufacturers to create increasingly “smart” factories. 5G is poised to be the catalyst that unleashes even more capabilities for IoT. In fact, said Josefsson, “5G will enable all four categories of IoT: massive, broadband, critical, and industrial automation, all of which naturally cater to a range of different use cases, from PLC data collection to steaming of video, to ultimately, realtime configurable cloud robotics.”

The addition of wireless connectivity will be an enabler in smart factories from several perspectives, according to Tardioli. “It will add flexibility to the manufacturing line design by enabling equipment mobility. Beyond that, not having to care about cabling will enable another key functionality in the context of a smart factory. It is the ability to get sensor measurement data from all different kinds of places in the manufacturing line. This includes not only data related to the actual manufacturing process performance or the manufactured product, but also about the machinery and production equipment conditions and quality,” he said.

Cybersecurity and 5G

With the influx of data at 5G speeds, a cyber attack could happen faster, leading to more data that could potentially be leaked even more quickly. An increased number of devices, use of virtualization, and distributed cloud will mean more security threats and broader, more multifaceted attacks. Considering the envisioned use models, 5G must be considered as a critical infrastructure, said Tardioli. 5G will require the strict implementation of existing security precautions and the adoption of new, additional security measures. “When we look at the overall threat landscape, 5G is intensifying already known risk scenarios,” Tardioli explained. “One example is that 5G relies heavily on software-based functionalities across the overall infrastructure including the radio access network, edge computing nodes, and the core network. Therefore, we see an increasing number of potential points of attack that will increase the importance and criticality of executing software-related security measures.”

A lot of risk in today's network infrastructure originates from poor configuration and setup. With 5G, these risks are likely to increase. Reasons for that include the overall complexity of the 5G system architecture, the fact that 5G is still in the early phases of its lifecycle, and the scarce availability of specialist skills, according to Tardioli.

“We need to consider risks when moving to wireless, over-the-air communication. Data that has been transmitted within a wireline infrastructure is now sent over the air, which is a 'shared’ medium,” Tardioli said. “While encryption functionality currently built into 5G will provide a good level of security for some attacks, it opens an additional set of vulnerabilities. Fake access nodes, signal jamming, or interference-type attacks need to be addressed in a security concept.”

Even though 5G networks have a distributed nature from user to core network, trusted connections are achieved through stronger encryption, integrity protection, and mutual authentication and verification, according to Josefsson.

“The good news is that for security, 5G is designed with significant enhancements and additions beyond those of previous generations,” added Tardioli. “These include elimination of known vulnerabilities, improvements upon existing security protocols, and increased capabilities for the system to recognize a threat or a breach and prevent these from causing problems.”

For more information:

Bosch Rexroth 

Ericsson 

Keysight Technologies