Using 5G network exposure to mitigate risks in industrial cobot environments
Flexible, modular and reconfigurable plants, often referred to as microfactories, are becoming increasingly popular - especially among batch and discrete manufacturers. Self-optimizing manufacturing requires microfactories to meet the increasing demands of a dynamic, product-driven marketplace. It is crucial to have access to digital services, automation and robotics technology (robots, cobots, drones, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to drive better production efficiency and increased data integration - this will also require secure, reliable and dynamic connectivity.
The requirements, opportunities and challenges of cobots
High-mix factories that utilize reconfigurable and modular machinery are likely to require smart robots that are capable of rapidly responding to ever-changing logistics and final assembly specifications. This level of automation and interdependency between multiple robotic systems is still in the early stage of development and may take several years to mature. Therefore, reprogrammable cobots play an important role in filling the automation gap.
Industries are rapidly moving towards a robot-human collaboration. Robots can perform repetitive tasks faster and make less mistakes than humans. Microfactories have dozens of production cells and every cell will require varying latency from the 5G network slice, to meet the needs of each cobot machine cell. Factory floors will have hundreds of robots working under constrained network resources that are limited - hence the need for a solution that dynamically allows the robotics application to request QoS from the network for specific tasks.
5G Network exposure for cobots
This use case potentially addresses a wide range of industries from manufacturing to mining, where the on-demand control of QoS is triggered by the detection of a relevant, specific service request. Network exposure
CSPs can expose a Service Application Programming Interface (API)s to robotics application providers - this allows the application to make an on-demand request to the private network for a dedicated QoS in order to control a robots’ arm with the right amount of latency. Together with Hitachi and Georgia Tech, Ericsson has created a solution that aims to increase productivity for cobots by allowing the human operator to share the workload. This is achieved through Ericsson’s high speed, reliable and secure 5G core network. This network is configured via a remote-control client application to ensure the interaction between the robot and human operator is safe, and the robot follows real-time guidance.
The above diagram of Hitachi’s environment depicts both the solution and the role of the network exposure when connected to the 5G network. The network exposure allows the following core capabilities to be exposed via APIs:
- The device onboarding (e.g.robots) into the 5G network wirelessly
- The application (Robot Remote Control Client) user is authenticated and authorized to communicate with the robots in a controlled and secure way
- The change of QoS is done via an application for the cobot specific task as shown in the video
- The whole task can be visualized with stats for each production cell via Robot Remote Control Client
Benefits for CSPs
5G Network capabilities can be monetized by CSPs and used by various industries (e.g. manufacturing and automotive). The deployment of easy-to-use APIs will increase security, suitable network bandwidth and latency and improve communication between specific user equipment (UE) and applications.
Benefits for enterprises
There are many benefits for enterprises, including improving and enabling flexible, modular, and reconfigurable plants (microfactories) and providing access to automation services and robotic technology – which is needed to coordinate the actions of each constituent part as needed. For hundreds of production units and devises to properly utilize the efficiency of network slices and reduce the impact on critical tasks, requires both precision and guaranteed latency.
This use case is not only applicable to electronics manufacturers (to date, the largest users of microfactories), but also to any industry that is using robots to automate its processes. Generally, these modules and reconfigurable plants have less expensive upfront costs, are easily scalable and are more efficient for smaller firms. CSPs can also help enable Industry 4.0 use cases for different verticals by working with the concept of microfactories over the 5G network and network exposure.
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