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Tools to help deliver a digital future

13 January 2020

Industry 4.0 has now moved well beyond the concept stage although there is still a long way to go. The next generation 5G wireless networks and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be crucial elements to enable Industry 4.0 to be wholly implemented, says Steve Sands

Connectivity is critical to Industry 4.0 and the rollout of the emerging next generation 5G wireless networks is expected to accelerate adoption. Manufacturers demand speed, secured communications and low latency, and for the first time, industrial automation companies have been involved in the development of the new telephony standard from the outset – ensuring that these characteristics will be provided.

The 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation was established to serve as a central global forum and members jointly strive to make sure that the particular interests of the industrial domain are adequately considered in 5G standardisation and regulation. Further, the 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), the industry body tasked with developing global standards for mobile communications, is working to develop the necessary radio technologies and architectural components that will be able to support Industry 4.0 requirements for vast connectivity, ultra-reliability and ultra-low latency.

One of the main differences between 5G and previous generations of mobile networks lies in its strong focus on machine-type communication and IoT. 5G supports three essential types of communication which are all key requirements from smart factories. These include ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) which facilitates highly critical applications with very demanding requirements in terms of end-to-end (E2E) latency (down to the millisecond level <1 ms), reliability and availability; massive machine-type communication (mMTC) which provides wide-area coverage and deep indoor penetration for hundreds of thousands of IoT devices per square kilometre and is designed to provide ubiquitous connectivity with low software and hardware requirements from the devices, and will support battery-saving, low-energy operation; and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) which provides high data rates and offers coverage well beyond that of 4G.

Addressing security
Security concerns are also being addressed with 5G which can be characterised as a modular communication system, with in-built privacy and security based upon the cloud approach. It can be flexibly configured to meet different service requirements and it includes strong E2E security. In particular, mutual authentication between the device and the network is supported. All transmitted data is encrypted E2E between the device and the network. 5G also supports a flexible authentication framework with the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) and strong encryption, while meeting strict latency requirements.

While the standards are not expected to be ready until 2020, projects are already underway exploring ways to increase productivity using robotics, big data analytics and augmented reality with 5G in a manufacturing setting. 5G is likely to support various Industrial Ethernet and Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) features, thereby enabling it to be integrated easily into the existing (wired) infrastructure, and in-turn enabling applications to exploit the full potential of 5G with ease. 

Artificial intelligence
AI is also expected to accelerate and enhance the implementation of Industry 4.0, and connectivity is vital for AI to succeed. AI can be defined as the concept of improvement and gaining insights through smart analytics and modelling.

Machinery will be increasingly autonomous and is expected to use AI to organise cooperation among themselves, sharing data with the supply/delivery chains and with users: creating ad hoc networks as the need arises. The data produced from the manufacturing process is analysed and actioned through AI to create dynamic self-learning production environments that are able to provide increasingly higher levels of productivity, operating with higher quality in a safer working environment.

Manufacturing production and the digital world are merging, making factory automation more flexible, increasing energy efficiency, linking logistics processes more closely and optimising the value chain. 5G networks and the emergence of AI will be key enablers for the digital future and will offer manufacturers the chance to build smart, digital factories using Industry 4.0 principles.

Steve Sands is product management and marketing manager at Festo UK & Ireland.

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