Andrei Merkulov - stock.adobe.co

Nokia, NTT Docomo and Omron to test 5G at factory floor

Three firms – Nokia, NTT Docomo and Omron – have banded together to test the feasibility of running a layout-free production line operated by 5G-connected robots and human technicians

Nokia, NTT Docomo and industrial equipment maker Omron will be testing the use of 5G at their plants and other production sites in one of the first 5G trials involving the industrial internet of things (IoT).

Instead of conducting the trial at a traditional factory floor where production lines are fixed, the trio will test the feasibility of operating a layout-free production line staffed by 5G-enabled autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) working alongside humans.

Industrial robotics is expected to be one of the key beneficiaries of 5G, which will provide the AMRs in the trial with high-speed, low latency connectivity that they need to communicate with production line equipment to convey components to the exact spot.

During the trial, AMRs will also be trained in real-time using artificial intelligence (AI), while the performance of human technicians will be monitored by an AI system that will offer feedback on their movements using machine vision.

This will help to improve the training of technicians by detecting and analysing the differences of movement between skilled and less skilled workers.

If successful, the trial will enable factories to rearrange production lines at short notice in response to shorter production cycles that are being driven by fast-changing consumer demands.

John Harrington, president and CEO of Nokia Japan, said: “Production lines will be more flexible and adaptable, and productivity on the factory floor can be more easily improved. We are dedicated to helping manufacturers enable this Industry 4.0 vision.

Takehiro Nakamura, senior vice-president and general manager of NTT Docomo’s 5G Laboratories, said factory automation is one of the most interesting and yet challenging fields to explore, having conducted multiple trials creating 5G use cases with a variety of partners.

“We are confident we will be able to prove the feasibility of layout-free factory production lines with autonomous mobile robots and person-machine collaboration, thanks to Nokia’s expertise in 5G infrastructure and Omron’s manufacturing technology know-how,” Nakamura added.

In a report on 5G in Southeast Asia, management consultancy A.T. Kearney singled out IoT as one of the top use cases for 5G, from remote monitoring of production assets to advanced uses in the medium to long term, such as the use of autonomous drones in service industries.

The study expects 5G penetration to be around 25% to 40% in major countries in the ASEAN region by 2025, with Singapore seeing more than 50% penetration. The total number of 5G subscriptions in ASEAN is forecast to exceed 200 million in 2025.

Naveen Menon, president for ASEAN at Cisco, said enterprises are looking to leverage the fourth industrial revolution, which is underpinned by AI, IoT, 3D printing, advanced robotics and wearables, to boost growth.

“The successful adoption of these technologies is largely dependent on the underlying connectivity. This provides a huge opportunity for telecom operators to increase their presence in the enterprise market and sustain their long-term growth,” he added.

While 5G will remain a key component in IoT initiatives, the monetisation of 5G systems for IoT is unlikely to live up to expectations in Asia-Pacific, according to Ecosystm, a Singapore-based technology consulting firm.

“Instead, software management and service management will drive the overall market as more IoT-based data services are created, innovated and delivered. Between them, they are expected to account for over 57% of the total IoT technology market forecast,” it said.

Read more about 5G in APAC

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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