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Comau, Ericsson, TIM test factory of the future through 5G network slicing

Robotics and automation company teams with comms tech provider and leading Italian operator to deliver solutions for Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing by using the potential of the 5G network as part of EU-funded 5Growth project

Aiming to realise the potential of Industry 4.0, Turin-based advanced industrial automation products and systems provider Comau has revealed three new applications demonstrating the advantages of 5G networks and their indispensability in the rapidly evolving manufacturing industry, specifically arising from the slicing functionality of such infrastructures.

The applications generated were part of the EU-funded 5G-enabled Growth in Vertical Industries (5Growth) project, which deals with the development of 5G solutions capable of meeting the rigorous requirements of major industry verticals such as Industry 4.0, transportation and energy by following a field trial approach. It was undertaken in a partnership between Comau, Italian operator TIM and communications technology provider Ericsson.

The applications include a mechanism for capturing the movement of a robot through an ultra-low latency radio link, real-time monitoring of industrial assets and immersive telepresence for an enhanced remote support scenario.

The experiment’s first use case captures the movement of a robot through an ultra-low latency radio link and produces a synchronised digital twin. The movement of the mechanical robot and the respective virtual renderings are said to be perfectly aligned in time. As the central system is constantly updated, it can consequently decide which production process is most convenient while controlling all the function parameters.

The second application focuses on the real-time monitoring of industrial assets. Data is captured from a large number of sensors and sent to an application that uses the acquired data to improve predictive maintenance planning, production processes and quality.

Through the integration with Comau’s in.Grid digital platform, effective recognition of deviations from normal operation is said to be fixed in a timely manner. Similarly, remote support and access to cloud-based resources, such as high-definition videos and live connections with augmented reality (AR) devices, could strongly reduce the repair time in case of failure.

The third use case demonstrates immersive telepresence for an enhanced remote support scenario. Maintenance staff present on-site are assisted remotely by an expert to resolve problems, taking advantage of AR and digital tutorials. Comau noted that thanks to the high-bandwidth capacity of 5G, it was possible for the operator to share what he sees in real time with remote experts, which translates to time- and cost-saving benefits.

“Comau is committed to defining a disruptive automation paradigm, which involves the use of external sensors to perceive the automation environments and centralise in real time the data perceived to a central “brain”. The information collected is used to automatically define and optimise the tasks to be performed by the machines in a flexible and efficient way,” explained the company’s digital solutions and services segment leader Alessandro Piscioneri.

“The 5Growth project, which we have developed in close collaboration with important partners TIM and Ericsson, has enabled Comau to directly field-test the value of the private 5G technology as an enabling factor for this innovative architecture, especially in a mobile robotics context.”

TIM’s head of innovation, Daniele Franceschini, added: “We are proud to be able to support business development through a digital ecosystem that undoubtedly represents huge opportunities to produce innovative solutions.

“With partners such as Comau and Ericsson, we can guarantee the development of new services and networks that can be configured in real time with a high level of security to create customised business scenarios such as those related to Industry 4.0. Thanks to our skills, we will contribute to digitisation, providing solutions that improve the production processes of businesses and public administration.”

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