Smart Factory is not a new concept. On the contrary, IoT technology has proved its value for making factories more intelligent. Prior to 5G technology, wireless-based IoT solutions were limited to feeding the system with data such as MES and ERP, which operate at a time regime of seconds or longer. The “factory floor” system still was based on proprietary PLC (programable logic controllers) connected via wires with sensors and actuators as this type of automation requires delays below 10 ms and only wires could meet these requirements at scale prior to 5G.
Benefits of focusing on 5G PLC and URLLC in telecom
5G is the first generation of wireless technology that is designed not just for mass market mobile Internet, but also various industry verticals. In particular, 5G URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication) is envisioned as an enabler to transform the factory floor. Together with MEC (Mobile/Multi-access Edge Computing), 5G can enable PLC softwarization and create advanced AI/ML-based applications which can control factory devices in real time. For example, a video analysis application can be used to recognize faulty products based on video stream provided by a 5G URLLC camera, and instruct a 5G URLLC robot arm to remove the faulty product from the assembly line on time. This example shows that consistent low latency and reliability are crucial for smart factory assembly line automation.
What do 5G PLC and AI have in common?
AI/ML-based video analysis for detection of faulty products on the assembly line is only one example of potential applications which can be hosted on MEC and implement a closed-loop control system within Smart Factory. The key to success is a broad ecosystem of application developers who can deliver anticipated innovation. Replacing the proprietary PLC with cloud-native applications running at MEC enables the adoption of a vast ecosystem of developers whose innovation skills are crucial.
The whole idea of 5G for Smart Factory must not introduce huge costs. 5G network slicing is yet another feature designed to enable the creation of dedicated/private smart factory networks by software. This is especially important for SMBs who can hire factory space and have their own 5G network created as a slice sharing the same physical infrastructure with other SMBs, thereby reducing implementation costs significantly.
Smart Factory – a new revenue stream for CSPs
The potential of 5G will not automatically translate into profit for CSPs, as they must still fight for their position on the market. CSPs need tools such as intent-driven orchestration to help them deliver automated solutions to enterprise clients on demand. Such “intent-driven” orchestration must be able to translate vertical-oriented needs into network requirements automatically, to be able to instantiate the network slice and operate it according to SLA driven by smart factory requirements.
Curious about how exactly to approach the subject as an operator? Discover the answer to this and other burning questions in the white paper entitled “Edge Computing and 5G URLLC: Making Smart Factory Smarter”.