This month saw the rebirth of the CW Industrial IoT SIG with an introductory session to the concept, use and technologies of Industrial IoT.
Russell Haggar from 42 Technology opened proceedings with an overview of the history of the internet of things, starting with Procter & Gamble’s introduction of RFID tags for fast moving consumer good stock management in 1997. This predated the massive expansion of the role of the internet and the improvement in connectivity technologies – phenomena which between them led Ericsson to report in 2010 that there would be 50Bn connected devices in the world by 2020.
Despite the huge forecast, the internet of things has been a slow burn. The focus in early years was primarily on consumer goods, and yet the closest most households have come to running a smart home is to own a smart speaker. Meanwhile in the industrial space, factories have been adopting advanced technologies that increase productivity and drive down costs for years. There are plenty of buzzwords that summarise the technological offerings to that sector: Industry 4.0, data analytics, Industrial IoT to name a few. But ultimately, industry has been “doing IoT” in one form or another for decades.
Despite this, there is still a lot to consider in this sector and new technologies are emerging that warrant analysis. The “internet” in “IoT” cannot, for example, be taken for granted. There are many different industrial IoT use cases, meaning there are many different demands for connectivity; what is the best connectivity option for each use case, what considerations are there and what better technologies might be coming down the line? In terms of the “things” in “IoT”, what level of autonomy does it have? What new manufacturing techniques are coming to reduce the cost of the device or improve power efficiency? Where is the computing taking place – on the device, at the edge or further away in the cloud?
Ed Hemphill from Pelion is a strong advocate in the role of the edge when it comes to Industrial IoT. His company deliver secure connectivity, device management and application deployment to companies looking to leverage the benefits of connected devices in their processes. For them, the internet of things is about creating a smarter world, and for this to happen computing needs to take place at the edge because the IoT devices themselves need to be small in size and low in power, the decisions that they enable need to be close to instantaneous and yet it needs to be possible for companies to leverage the vast potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning models to increase system autonomy. 5G is the great enabler of edge computing because it allows for the transmission of far more data at far greater speeds.
The 5G-SMART programme is one that is specifically exploring the role of 5G in manufacturing settings. Krister Landernas from ABB Corporate Research represented this EU Horizon 2020 funded project at the session and outlined three of the projects in the programme, all of which use commercially available 5G devices where possible.
The first example is in the Ericsson smart factory where 5G is connecting robots that collaborate with each other and with humans in their vicinity. As much functionality as possible within these robots is delivered by the edge, including for example mobile navigation. The project uses 5G NR NSA at high-band (28GHz) over a test area of 50m2.
The second project in 5G-SMART is the IPT Fraunhofer shopfloor which uses 5g for wireless workpiece monitoring and multi-sensor platform development. Essentially the team is monitoring a variety of factors (temperature, acceleration, humidity etc) within different pieces of equipment and analysing this data in the factory’s cloud. Currently three machines are operating with the sensor platform and the goal is for this to increase over time. The project is using 5G NR SA and NSA in the mid-band (3.7GHz) across a 3000m2 floor area.
The final project discussed in the 5G-SMART programme was the use of 5G for automation in the Bosch semiconductor factory at Reutlingen. The overall goal of this project is to assess the challenges of radio deployment in a factory environment, assession electromagnetic interference and channel characteristics. So far the project has found that using mid-band 5G for ultra-reliable, low latency use cases works well, but that coverage is less good when high-band 5G is deployed unless the network is more dense or positioned very carefully.
The success of the 5G-SMART project in deploying commercially available (Rel.15) 5G technology to IoT use cases is testimony to the planning of the standards bodies who have built this generation of cellular technology from the start with industry in mind. And as Sylvia Lu from u-blox pointed out in her session, it was no mean feat. 5G is a far more complex beast than 4G, as it needed to be to meet the many needs of factories, utilities companies, logistics firms and more. The use cases that 5G targeted included things as diverse as autonomous driving, assembly line management and automation, augmented reality applications and inventory / delivery management. And no single connectivity technology could have addressed the diverse needs of this range of use cases.
So the standards bodies have segmented 5G and different features that are applicable to different use cases are being delivered at different times. Consumer 5G was a focus of earlier releases, and now attention has shifted to industrial 5G. As an example, 5G RedCap (standing for Reduced Capability) is due as part of Rel.17. 5G RedCap will drive adoption of 5G in the industrial IoT space by reducing 5G device complexity and cost and improving power consumption while maintaining a decent transmission rate. It is seen to be the perfect solution for industrial sensors, surveillance cameras and wearable devices, filling a niche in the world of 5G use cases where extreme performance in terms of extra-high bandwidths or ultra low latency simply isn’t necessary.
With advanced technologies like 5G and Edge Computing emerging, the world of Industrial IoT has a promising future and there will be plenty of future innovations that the likes of manufacturers, water suppliers and freight companies can leverage to increase productivity and decrease costs. The CW Industrial IoT SIG is looking forward to exploring these technologies and their adoption in industry in their coming events.