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Private 5G drives sustainable and agile industrial operations

Consortium of companies spanning industrial automation, 5G networking infrastructure technology and network service provision team up to enable industrial private 5G application uses cases within manufacturing and process operations

Rockwell Automation, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies and Verizon have entered into a collaboration to look at how the increasingly popular private 5G can provide a backbone for tomorrow’s  application uses cases within manufacturing and process operations.

The partners noted that 5G’s intrinsic capabilities make it a perfect fit for industrial automation and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) in general, with the promise of being a viable technology to augment, and even replace, traditional wired industrial network connections.

Specifically, the firms are evaluating industrial private 5G technology with Ethernet/IP connectivity.

The companies said they believe the manufacturing industry needs to be flexible to ever-changing market demands. For example, organisations needed to retool their industrial operations to meet shifting demand during the pandemic – switching from soda to sanitiser, clothing to medical masks, or automotive parts to ventilators. The lesson is that agility, efficiency, resiliency and sustainability are important aspects of smart manufacturing.

The companies also noted that with private networks, 5G can deliver these benefits with ultra-high capacity and low latency for numerous industrial sensors, actuators, and controllers in standard and safety control applications, both in mmWave and conventional sub-6GHz spectrum. 5G offers “a game-changer”  in terms of cost, flexibility, reconfigurability, sustainability, and time-to-market for industrial operations around the world, they said. 

Looking at business outcomes such as sustainability and agility, the partners regard industrial private 5G as an enabler of digital transformation in smart manufacturing to help deliver connected worker applications, mobile asset applications and untethered fixed industrial asset applications. The former are seen as able to increase visibility and intelligence through mobile digital tools, such as analytics, digital twins and augmented reality (AR), while mobile asset applications increase agility and efficiency with autonomous vehicles, such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

The consortium’s tests were run according to an established test plan provided by Rockwell Automation with success criteria of zero faults. It outlined a series of test cases to establish reliable Ethernet/IP standard and safety (CIP Safety) I/O connections from a GuardLogix area controller, with a range of requested packet interval (RPI) settings – the rate at which the controller and the I/O exchange data – over the 5G RAN to the FLEX 5000 standard and safety I/O.

The test results are said to have successfully demonstrated that the current state of industrial private 5G (3GPP Release-15, NSA, on-premise, mmWave spectrum) has low enough latency and jitter to support RPI settings that are better than the Rockwell Automation default settings for Ethernet/IP standard and safety I/O connections. These RPI settings can support untethered fixed industrial asset applications (skids, machines or equipment) that use Ethernet/IP standard and safety I/O communications.

The research collaboration will continue, with plans to evaluate Ethernet/IP time synchronisation (CIP Sync) and distributed motion (CIP Motion) applications over 3GPP Release 16 standalone industrial private 5G. The results of an initial proof-of-concept test were promising.

Rockwell Automation, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies and Verizon are confident that they have verified that real 5G enabled industrial automation test cases work as promised. They said industrial operations can thus take advantage of the 5G standard today to meet their high-performance wireless connectivity and business assurance needs.

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