Taking factory automation to the next level
Partnering with Audi has allowed us to push the boundaries of 5G technologies for automation applications in smart factories, with 5G Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) delivering the strict latency and reliability demands of industrial automation.
The manufacturing industry is evolving fast, and industry leaders such as Audi are searching for ways to stay ahead in their factories with increased flexibility in the production automation and assembly processes while also reducing personnel safety risks.
Ericsson and Audi have been collaborating to expand the horizons of tomorrow’s factories with 5G technologies. Following on from the first announced their collaboration to pioneer 5G for automotive manufacturing in August 2018 and from previous developments with both Audi and SICK, where we introduced safe AGV operation over a 5G network, we’ve now taken factory automation over a wireless network to the next level with 5G URLLC – 5G Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication.
Running the industry standard and protocols for automation communications as PROFINET RT and PROFIsafe, 5G URLLC delivers very low latency and strict latency bounds with required guarantee levels to avoid triggering safety stops in the system. This is of great significance for the industrial automation industry, as it opens the door for safe human-robot interaction, which was previously only possible over a wired network. Cutting the cables is the real game changer in enabling Industry 4.0. This is one of a range of activities that Ericsson has been working on together with Audi, to explore the potential of 5G as a future-proof communication technology that can meet the high demands of automotive production.
Demonstrating the power of 5G URLLC
Ericsson and Audi have successfully tested the 5G URLLC capabilities with real-life industrial automation applications at the Ericsson’s factory lab in Kista in January, 2020. In the latest demo showcasing the power of 5G URLLC, we together have built a robot cell similar to those operating in Audi factories today, but over 5G connectivity. The arm of the robot is building part of a steering wheel, in this case an airbag, whilst a laser curtain protects the open side of the robot cell. We are showing an example to transport safety protocols, the underlying mechanisms need to be very stable and reliable, and that is what 5G URLLC brings.
Thanks to the ultra-low latency and reliability of 5G URLLC, if a factory worker reaches into the cell the robot will instantly stop, making it safe for personnel not to be harmed whilst working with the machines. This instant response with guaranteed reliability is not possible through traditional Wi-Fi or previous-generation mobile networks, meaning that these machines have historically required restrictive wired technology.
5G URLLC and the factory of the future
Freeing automated machines from wires significantly increases the flexibility, mobility and efficiency of a production line, as robot cells using a wired network connection are restricted in terms of where they can be placed on the factory floor. With 5G URLLC, these machines require only a power connection, usually available anywhere in a factory, meaning the production setup can easily be changed and units moved around on a day-to-day basis to maximize efficiency.
Collaborations like this are essential for the developing the factory of the future. By partnering with manufacturers like Audi, we are able to develop technologies like 5G URLLC based on and optimized for real-world requirements, and our partners have an opportunity to shape the future of their industry.