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How 5G communication is made possible on the factory floor

by Dagens Industri | Oct 27, 2020

This article was originally published in Swedish business magazine Dagens Industri.

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While 5G has not yet gained a foothold on the consumer market, it is fast becoming increasingly clear that the technology will have great significance for industrial applications. Already today, industry players are reviewing the countless applications of the new standard. But if they are to be able to take full advantage of the possibilities with 5G, it is required that industrial units and networks can communicate seamlessly. Different standards for communication will continue to be a reality on the factory floor, even with 5G.

- 5G has the potential to make the industry smarter, more flexible and safer, but there are still some steps missing for us to reach all the way, says Jörgen Palmhager, CTO of HMS Networks.

Jörgen-Palmhager,-HMS

HMS Networks is a world leader in solutions for industrial communication and industrial IoT. With state-of-the-art technology, the company makes it possible for customers to securely connect millions of industrial products worldwide, in automation systems as well as innovative Industrial IoT applications.

-For over 30 years, we have enabled communication between machines and industrial networks on the factory floor, says Jörgen Palmhager. In recent years, we have seen more and more industrial devices being connected to the Internet. With 5G, we see data speeds that can handle the industry's rigorous conditions; this brings new opportunities for increased automation on the factory floor and within IIoT, but at the same time, it places high demands on performance and data speeds as well as security and reliability.

The key to Industry 4.0

Used correctly, 5G is the key that has been missing to fully achieve the vision of Industry 4.0. The big challenge in the future will be to automate things that have so far been considered a bit too complex, such as material handling, efficient conversion of production lines and the like.

This requires a flexible and stable infrastructure, where new and existing communication standards work together.

- The vision is that 5G will completely eliminate the need for cables, but while 5G will certainly be able to function as a cable replacement in production – and thus enable a completely different mobility for both staff and machines on the factory floor – it is more about complementing existing infrastructure.

There are still areas that depend on wired communication to meet high demands on real-time communication, for example for drives and inverters. The biggest improvement will rather be in flexibility and mobility combined with powerful data capacity and low latency between devices and systems. Low latency is a prerequisite for machines to be able to work together efficiently.

Different communication standards

Most industrial units and applications use different standards when communicating. Many different communication standards are used on the factory floor, and most are more or less unknown to the IT world. This problem becomes increasingly clear as older systems and industry-specific standards must be combined with new technology such as 5G.

Despite the implementation of 5G, there will be a great need for translation between machines and networks. The ability to connect directly to the network is also not limited to industrial units. More and more tools are becoming mobile and battery-powered. At the same time, simpler devices, such as mobile phones and iPads, also need to be connected, so that employees always have the correct information available.

HMS Networks is an "early adopter" within 5G and is well equipped to handle the challenge.

- The need for wireless communication is only growing and from day one our specialty has been to bridge communication problems. The ambition is to be able to quickly connect "standard ethernet" directly to 5G, but in most industrial cases, a bridge unit is required. With such a bridge, you can package the network protocols, send them over 5G and then unpack them so that they can be transferred to cable. This opens up great opportunities for HMS technology and we have a number of industrial products and routers intended for 5G in our range.

Daring to take the lead

The transition to 5G is, however, something that will need to happen step by step. The industry is often considered conservative and sluggish when it comes to adopting new technologies, but Jörgen points out that enormous values are often at stake; If the technology does not work, there will be large losses.

At the same time, he points out that the benefits of using smart systems that are fully automated and flexible can be extensive and emphasizes that the industry – especially the larger manufacturing companies – is quick to absorb innovations as there is real demonstrable value.

- More use cases and more proof of concept are needed, which in turn requires that there are actors who dare to take the lead. The first steps have been taken; for example, we collaborate with Ericsson to develop a starter kit with everything you need to get started quickly and test the new technology. In a world where all machines and devices are intelligent and connected, HMS is simply a leader in getting industrial units and systems to communicate – for a more productive and sustainable world.

 

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