The advent of 5G technology represents a huge shift in wireless communications, because for the first time, what is on offer is data rates and levels of reliability that are comparable to those in the wired environment – data rates that are ten times higher than the generation that precedes them.
For 3G and 4G, the focus has been principally on the implications for the world of the consumer – but 5G will extend far beyond this, and into industrial applications. Why? Because at the speeds and reliability levels on offer, the technology will be able to work in real time. What’s more, it will be able to serve higher numbers of subscribers or IoT devices than ever before.
In time, equipment optimized to take advantage of 5G will deliver even greater benefits. But 5G can also be retrofitted in existing factories, both as a private network and by subscription to public networks. Also, inside existing machines, the sensors can transmit their data via cable to 5G-capable gateways, which then transmit them wirelessly. We’re already using this approach today to network machines installed with IoT Gateways.
With 5G and industrial IoT, we believe there will no longer be a need for factory production lines to be fixed. Instead, they can be modular, reconfigured at will in line with requirements, which is an essential part of the Factory of the Future.
How is Bosch driving 5G forward?
In order to make this new mobile communications standard industry-ready from the outset, Bosch has assumed the chairmanship of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), which was founded in 2018. To date, more than 40 companies and research institutes worldwide have joined forces in the initiative. In addition, Bosch is currently setting up the first 5G networks in its own plants to explore the potential of 5G. Bosch is collaborating with scientists, machine manufacturers, and IT companies.
The 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) is the globally leading alliance for shaping and driving the development of 5G in the industrial domain. Dr. Andreas Mueller is Head of Communication and Network Technology at Bosch Corporate Research, and General Chair of 5G-ACIA. We speak to him and Gunther May to understand better.
Question: How is the 5G-ACIA achieving its goal?
Dr. Mueller: 5G-ACIA is the central global forum for shaping 5G in the industrial domain. On one platform, various industries from all over the world jointly create a new Information Communications Technology (ICT) and Operational Technology (OT) ecosystem and set the frameworks for a highly attractive emerging market.
Industrial IoT has become a key focus area for the entire 5G ecosystem. As such, many features have been specified, which address the specific needs of industrial use cases and applications. This includes support for real-time traffic, ultra-high reliability and low-latency, time-sensitive networking (TSN) and high accuracy positioning. In addition, so-called non-public networks have been enabled, so that factories can be equipped with their own, dedicated 5G networks, which are – at least to some extent – decoupled from the established public networks. This gives factory owners a lot of flexibility and independence in the way they can make use of 5G.
5G-ACIA has played a crucial role by providing a global forum for stakeholders from the ICT and OT industries. A close collaboration between these two groups is necessary in order to unlock the full potential of Industrial 5G, and 5G-ACIA is the place to be for that purpose.
Question: Manufacturing is commonly considered as one of the most exciting and promising new application areas enabled by 5G. At the same time, however, the industrial domain also comes along with many specific challenges that require special consideration. Where are we on the Industrial 5G journey, including relevant standardization and testbed activities and the further evolution of 5G in future?
Dr. Mueller: It’s also important to note that 5G isn’t a single standard, but is constantly being enhanced and extended, with new releases coming out roughly every 15-18 months. Many features that will make a major difference to the manufacturing industry, such as ultra-reliable low-latency communication and TSN support, will likely hit the market later this year, end-2021. I believe this will mark the beginning of a more widespread adoption of 5G in industrial automation.
Question: Can you give us an example of further developments?
Dr. Mueller: In the long-term, I expect other developments and enhancements will include an even stronger focus on vertical applications and private / non-public networks, the deep integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning – for example, for automating the operation of networks – and the usage of ever higher frequencies beyond 100 GHz. This last development will also make possible other completely new features and functions, such as imaging, material inspection, and RADAR – all of them integrated into a single network.
But this is the future and will be part of 6G. In my view, 5G technology will remain at the center point of real-world implementations for many years to come.
Question: What opportunities does Bosch Rexroth expect from 5G?
Gunther May: At Bosch Rexroth, we are working intensively on the factory of the future. It 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. We are currently testing the concrete application in selected Bosch plants. For example, Bosch Rexroth is equipping production plants for the factory of the future with the latest 4.0 technologies. This involves the efficient interaction of technologies, methods, and applications in production. The plant will be gradually expanded and digitally upgraded with new manufacturing processes. The goal is cost-effective production that stands for high flexibility with short throughput and delivery times. In a further step, the next 5G generation of mobile phones is to be introduced into local production.
As a supplier, we are convinced that our customers will need machines and controls that are 5G-capable. It is precisely this market that we want to serve with suitable solutions.
Question: Which investments are necessary when, is 5G also possible in the brownfield approach?
Gunther May: 5G can also be retrofitted in existing factories, both as a private network and as a subscriber to public networks. The machines, equipment and systems only need to be retrofitted with appropriate communication modules for wireless information exchange. It is also possible to initially connect only individual lines to 5G.
For new plants, it is advisable to design the infrastructure directly to 5G. This reduces the cabling costs for new machines. At the same time, users can flexibly reconfigure their machines and systems with minimal effort, since the location within the hall is irrelevant as long as the device is in the radio range.
Question: 5G is intended to be the technical answer to the demand for increasing mobility. For this to work in an industrial environment, special requirements must be met. What are these requirements from the industry's point of view?
Gunther May: We are seeing in almost all industries that the life cycles of products are becoming ever shorter and that industrial users are constantly having to produce smaller batch sizes. The factory of the future is therefore extremely flexible, only the floor, roof and walls are fixed. Machines and systems can be moved by the user according to the order lot and assembled into new production lines within a very short time. An important prerequisite is a stable wireless connection at all times - both for the exchange of very large amounts of data among each other and with higher-level systems.
Question: Do users need new devices (smartphones, controllers, sensors) to make 5G work? Or can 5G also be retrofitted to existing machines, robots and systems?
Gunther May: 5G undoubtedly requires new equipment. But as with switching from LAN to WLAN, a step-by-step transition is possible. Inside machines, the sensors can transmit their data via cable to 5G-capable gateways, which then transmit them wirelessly. Bosch Rexroth is already using this approach today to subsequently network machines installed with IoT gateways.