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5G-enabled manufacturing: Realizing Industry 4.0

A two-year project with Ford Motor Company has shown how 5G, mobile private networks, Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), IoT (Internet of Things), Big Data, Cloud, Artificial Intelligence will deliver Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future.

Joann O'Brien
11 Feb 2022
5G-enabled manufacturing: Realizing Industry 4.0

5G-enabled manufacturing: Realizing Industry 4.0

A two-year project with Ford Motor Company has shown how 5G, mobile private networks, multi-access edge computing (MEC), IoT (Internet of Things), big data, cloud, artificial intelligence will deliver Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future.

The 5G Enabled Manufacturing (5GEM) project, a consortium of manufacturing, IT and telecommunications companies and organizations, worked together to explore the use cases and expected benefits to the Ford Motor company. The project was co-funded by the UK government and ran over two years, with two physical test beds, at Ford’s manufacturing facility in Dunton, UK and TWI’s Research Institute in Cambridge, UK.

The project demonstrated how 5G could be used to improve the efficiency of changing machine configurations on the production line in real time in response to changes in the environment, measured by 5G-connected sensors.

It also demonstrated how artificial intelligence-based predictive maintenance could reduce downtime due to breakdowns and unnecessary maintenance, which requires secure, high-throughput 5G connections to access large quantities of data from manufacturing machines. Additionally, it enabled remote maintenance of factory equipment using real-time augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) to diagnose and fix problems quickly and minimize downtime.

Industry standards played an important role in the project, from utilizing 5G standards, ensuring security by design across the architecture and leveraging a common data model to ease interoperability challenges. The standards work program set out to ensure reuse of innovative technology, driving down the overall cost of R&D while increasing interoperability, portability, and scalability to realize a more competitive solution.

Security by design

Vodafone ensured the 5G mobile private network was secure by design and embedded across the architecture from the beginning. Securing the MPN was a key feature of this. Here two-Factor authentication was used for access control for the remote management, and all security measures maintained three fundamental principles of information security, confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

The project also recognized that security isn’t a goal in and of itself, it is a process – and it must continue throughout the lifetime of the solution, continuously evolving to meet and defeat the latest threats.

The use of a common data model throughout the project provided the common language of exchange between the different components of the system provided by different companies. Data is captured at the laser welding machine and uses the Vodafone MPN to expose the data to the Atlas cloud edge device for analysis. Data from the Atlas Cloud is processed by TWI, Research Institute where the data is used to identify improvements to the welding process.

Learnings and opportunities

Managing security right across the end-to-end solution, leveraging existing policies and practices, presents a new opportunity for growth.

The skills and practices exist in the teams today, however, the new opportunity involves the extended scope and remit. Much of the digital manufacturing solution could be represented by an IoT architecture, applied in practice with data strategy and integrity, connectivity infrastructure and end-to-end security.

From a telecommunications perspective, IoT as a platform extension of the existing architecture, represents a new potential opportunity as a common layer of infrastructure, utilizing the natural extensibility capability of existing Open Digital Architectures, has the potential to be further exploited to reduce R&D costs and increase margins.

5G and MPNs present a new opportunity for wireless connectivity in manufacturing sites, with increased bandwidth and the ability to manage streams of data from connected devices, along with localized and remote processing provide the foundations for predictive analytics, closed loop automated and defect prevention. With this new capability comes also a new degree of configurability to ensure optimal capacity and throughput.

“While most enterprises have the required IT skills to manage WiFi and other LAN networks, this is often not the case with cellular private networks," according to Pablo Avila, Private Network Solutions Architect, Vodafone.

"Private networks are not plug and play, they require site surveys, radio planning and installation, a secure SIM provisioning process, etc.," explained Avila. "Furthermore, it is the operator´s responsibility to educate its customers on the differences between public and private cellular networks, the different architectures available, how MEC plays a key role on these deployments, etc.”

This represents a new opportunity for managed services to alleviate the burden of ever-increasing complexity of connectivity. And it sets a path towards connectivity-as-a-service as the repeatability of architecture may not translate to new scenarios and care and specialist knowledge is required as cellular networks are more sensitive. In harsh environments such as offshore oil rigs and wind farms, detailed knowledge of environmental considerations and configurations is required.

These insights provided practical knowledge to help inform the evolution of connectivity-as-a-service as an enabler to the fourth industrial revolution.

Explore the 5GEM project: Use case 1: Ford deploys real-time process analysis & control Use case 2: Ford & partners deploy 5G for intelligent maintenance Use case 3: Ford optimizes quality with 5G and hybrid cloud Catalyst project webpage 5GEM website