Industry 4.0 — the term that originated in Germany to describe the fourth industrial revolution of cyber-physical systems — is being closely connected today with 5G, which is often referred to as the fifth-generation mobile network. This connection allows manufacturers to further improve factory automation, human/machine interfaces, and mobility in their processes.

When talking about 5G in industry, there are three basic pillars that can benefit from 5G. First is network speed: 5G is 100 times faster than 4G and in the coming years, could offer up to 1,000 times higher data rates compared to 4G. Second is latency, or the time it takes to send information from point A to point B. Decreasing latency means higher data capacity and the ability of machines and systems to react to controls in real time. Third is connectivity reliability. If operators can work with machine controls anywhere on the factory floor with confidence that connections will not be lost, productivity will increase.

For the first time, 5G offers a data rate and reliability comparable to wired communication. According to Gunther May, Director of Technology and Innovation at Bosch Rexroth AG, “5G opens up completely new possibilities for the industry to retrieve information and trigger actions independent of the real location of machines. This improves flexibility in production, machine availability, and overall equipment effectiveness. New operating concepts are also possible with 5G — one 5G operating device can address several machines as reliably as only wired individual devices could in the past,” said May.

In order to make this new mobile communications standard industry-ready from the outset, the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) was founded in 2018. To date, more than 40 companies and research institutes worldwide have joined forces in the initiative.

What Manufacturers Can Expect

While previous generations of networks were focused on consumer applications, 5G is expected to provide major benefits to industry. According to Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries at Ericsson, “Manufacturing is facing numerous challenges and only marginal gains can be had through traditional cost-cutting measures. To optimize end-to-end value, a new connectivity foundation is needed to copy, monitor, and control the physical world.”

So what are the major differences manufacturers will see as a result of implementing 5G? Said Giampaolo Tardioli, Vice President and General Manager of the Network Access and Internet Infrastructure Solutions Group at Keysight Technologies, “5G can be considered a functionality boost for the communication system, which is an integral part of a smart manufacturing factory concept. You could argue that 5G is eventually one of the key enablers and success factors to deliver on the promises of smart manufacturing and is designed for industrial applications.”

From a smart manufacturing point of view, mobile edge computing capabilities of 5G facilitate reliability and latency but also bring new options with regards to the implementation of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), which can then be performed close to the origin of data and the devices, according to Tardioli.

In addition, said Tardioli, “5G enables three major types of communication services: enhanced mobile broadband services, massive machine type communication, and ultra-reliable, low-latency communication (URLLC). With those, 5G networks will therefore provide functionalities to support and enable different types of industrial use cases, like manufacturing.”

5G can also rehabilitate the “bad name” of industrial wireless, redefining performance and even more importantly, the perception of reliability. “Wireless standards are not created equal. Cellular networks run on secure licensed spectrum and deliver on stricter uptime requirements, all the while limiting interference and dead spots occurring on alternative wireless standards,” Josefsson added.

But 5G is much more than a bigger bit pipe, said Josefsson. “It is a platform for innovation, making it easier to adopt, use, and scale new digital and industrial solutions.”

5G on the Factory Floor

5G has the potential to provide connectivity for a range of different uses in manufacturing. Said May, “The factory of the future is extremely variable: machines and systems are always assembled into new lines according to demand — and it is wireless. This applies both to power supply via inductive energy transmission and to data communication via an appropriate wireless network. For this, users need a very powerful network that transmits data extremely quickly and stably. This is where 5G technology comes into play.”

Robotic and motion control are often mentioned as factory automation use case categories that will benefit from 5G's support for URLLC, according to Tardioli. For process automation, he explained, use cases around massive wireless sensor networks for process monitoring, predictive maintenance, and closed-loop process control are discussed.

Robotic control will benefit from 5G when being applied on a mobile robot or autonomous guided vehicle (AGV). Said Tardioli, “Here we see use cases that will enable efficiency improvements by running control logic remotely with high-performance compute capabilities, for example. Another example is enhanced safety procedures when analyzing sensor data in real time. A key enabling functionality 5G also provides in this context is high-precision positioning. High-precision location information, on its own, will enable a new set of use cases like asset tracking and management.”

How humans and machines interact also will be an important benefit resulting from 5G implementation. While we typically think about highly automated or autonomous processes in the context of how 5G will change manufacturing, “there is another area of use that will become of high relevance,” according to Tardioli. “Despite all the advances in automation, there will be areas where people will continue to have a role in manufacturing. 5G will play a role in enabling new ways of human-machine interfacing (HMI). A use case we can see is the use of augmented reality to guide and support specific operation and maintenance tasks.

“Other areas related to HMI will be new remote-control use cases and the use of mobile control panels,” he continued. “URLLC and the ability to transmit high-resolution video will allow remote control of equipment that had to be operated locally before. Staying with the topic of machine and equipment control, inter-machine or control-to-control communication is foreseen to take advantage of 5G, which will enable new line layouts and flexibility.”

In addition to highly critical applications like seamless human-robot collaboration and real-time adaptive manufacturing for complex milling scenarios, “5G also supports massive, low-energy sensor deployments with ten times the battery life, as well as faster retrofitting of devices and creating digital twins and copies of a factory,” said Josefsson. “By 2030, more than 3.8 billion assets will be connected wirelessly within factories. According to Ericsson's own electronics production in Estonia, there is a need to connect one device per every 20 square feet.”

Beyond supporting remote automation and simpler monitoring to improve overall equipment efficiency, 5G also brings better location services for warehouse and asset management such as faster tool finding and workforce tracking for safety, according to Josefsson.

Enhancing Manufacturing Mobility

5G supports an increasingly moving and trackable shop floor that is especially relevant to the adoption of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Secure mobility and 5G will become increasingly important as automation cells and workstations become moving “islands” rather than tethered lines.

With reduced latency by a factor of five, cellular is now rivaling wired connections, meaning manufacturing can break free of costly physical constrictions, according to Josefsson. “A mainstream factory has kilometers of wires, and drawing cables is an inefficient way of connecting production and infrastructure. Especially with faster product cycles and increased customization, the manufacturing setup must be as flexible as possible to be competitive.”

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.”

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. 5G will require the strict implementation of existing security precautions and the adoption of new, additional security measures.

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 


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This article first appeared in the February, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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