Smart factories: Mobile network characteristics and main KPIs

Published on 1 Oct 2020, under 5G, Automation / Robotics, Manufacturing

Thanks to our CWTEC sponsor Rohde & Schwarz for this blog

The 5G technology has been standardized in the 3GPP Release 15, forming the basis of today’s commercial 5G networks. With the 3GPP Release 16, which is heavily influenced by the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) and the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), we are expecting significant improvements in latency reduction, network synchronization, and the integration of 5G into industrial Ethernet networks. These developments will make 5G a suitable technology to fulfill the requirements of smart factories (Industry 4.0). At the start of this journey, private network operators will also rely on LTE technology (4G).

Factory owners aim to make the manufacturing process and production facilities more flexible and adaptable to reduce the cost of operations by minimizing downtime, achieved by modifying production lines, synchronizing inventory management, and efficiently organizing personnel and equipment.

Turning factories into smart factories becomes a commercial necessity. Traditional factory owners will experience significant disadvantages because competitors with smart manufacturing will have less downtime while producing more.

Main KPIs of mobile networks in smart factories

A smart factory is a critical environment that needs to meet rigid requirements on the connectivity and reliability of machines and robots as well as on the data security and employee safety, especially if the connectivity is provided by wireless technologies. These requirements need to be checked, verified, monitored, and, if corrective action is needed, optimized.

The reliability of wireless connections is mostly realized by redundant connections. Every location inside a smart factory needs to be served by 3, 4, 5, or more wireless access points; when done in a coordinated way, the setup ensures redundancy while minimizing interference.

This redundancy concept needs to be verified with network testing solutions. Verifications should be made upon the smart factory rollout and every time after factory modifications since they might affect the signal propagation significantly.

Latency, or the time a signal needs to travel through the system, is another crucial requirement of smart factory networks that needs to be carefully controlled. We distinguish between round-trip latency and one-way latency.

AR/VR use cases, for example, need low round-trip latency, because if the technician wearing AR/VR glasses moves his head, the image depicting instructions needs to update very quickly to ensure proper operation. Robot control, on the other hand, requires low one-way latency. The system sends an order to the robot, and the robot has to act immediately (e.g., stop movement); it is just one-way communication.

rohde-schwarz one trip latencyrohde-schwarz round trip latency

So far, we have observed in tests that the one-way latency does not typically equal half of the round-trip latency. Therefore, it is important to test and verify both latency options in smart factories.

For more information, see Rohde & Schwarz's dedicated smart factory web page here, and For more articles on Smart Factories and other interesting topics, see Rohde & Schwarz's “Stories & Insights” webpage here.

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