Mobile & manufacturing - 5G commmunication

7 min read

​In March this year (see link at end of article), Machinery took a look at the potential of 5G mobile communications for manufacturing. The area is definitely hotting up, as Andrew Allcock reveals here

Mobile networks employing 5G are expected to become widely available globally during 2020, although as part of a wider European push (, the UK’s first city to be made 5G-enabled will be announced this summer, winning government cash backing into the bargain. However, mobile operator EE will switch on the UK’s first live 5G trial network in East London in October, while Telefonica UK is to build a 5G test bed at The O2 that will go live later this year.

Image: Ericsson and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology teamed up to explore and develop 5G industrial applications, with the first use case being the production of blisks for MTU Aero Engines

As we go to press with this issue (August 2018), the government has just unveiled its Future Telecomms Infrastructure Review, in which it says: “We want the majority of the population to have 5G coverage by 2027.”

According to the EU Commission’s 5G for Europe: An Action Plan document: “5G is seen as a game changer, enabling industrial transformations through wireless broadband services provided at gigabit speeds.” And Qualcomm explains that while local area networks based on ethernet, WiFi and LTE (4G mobile) are already used in industrial applications, 5G allows users to “configure the network to exactly the performance it requires”, adding “industrial networks can be designed and optimised for real-time performance, extreme reliability and availability, and for stringent privacy and security restrictions”. Qualcomm is a world leader in 3G and next-generation mobile technologies.

On an environmental note, there’s a 90% reduction in network energy usage on offer with 5G; 40% of network operating costs are pure energy, according to mobile operator representative body GSMA.

This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), held in March, was abuzz with 5G chatter. Part of its seminar programme took in a 5G summit, with it heralding the technology thus: “5G is fast approaching and it will have a profound impact on almost every industry around the world.” And mobile technology firm Ericsson says that real-time automation has a revenue potential of $101 billion by 2026. It also adds that by 2023, 5G will make up around one-fifth of all mobile data traffic, with subscription uptake forecast to reach one billion.

Already, at MWC 2017, Kuka ( and China’s Huawei X Labs showed robots employing 5G. A live demonstration showed a pair of robot arms performing dancing and drumming in precise synchronisation and collaboration. According to Kuka, the 5G live demonstration highlighted some of the capabilities offered by the technology, achieving latency as low as 1 ms with 1 μs clock synchronisation and 99.999% reliability. “5G cellular wireless technology will enable Kuka to provide robot-based production systems with even more flexibility through wireless machine-to-machine and machine-to-cloud communication,” said Stefan Lampa, CEO of Kuka Robotics.

Later in 2017, Huawei Wireless X Labs got together with industry partners to establish a Wireless Connected Factory Special Interest Group (SIG). Those partners included ABB, Bosch, Beckhoff and Kuka.

In our March issue, we reported that Huawei and Festo ( are jointly exploring 5G network applications in manufacturing and promote the digital transformation of the industry.

“In the factory of the future, everyone and everything will stay connected to rely on manufacturing services provided in industrial clouds,” says Dirk Pensky, the head of Festo’s software engineering department. “Festo is involved in different activities to shape the future of our factories. 5G will become the communication technology for smart manufacturing and we aim to prove that with this co-operation.”

Also in 2017, ABB ( partnered with Ericsson to establish a joint 5G industrial innovation lab. The lab, physically located at ABB’s premises in Västerås, Sweden, will be equipped with infrastructure and network services from Ericsson, including connection to the company’s 5G virtualised core network, edge computing (local/distributed cloud), network slicing (allows multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common shared physical infrastructure) and Ericsson’s IoT accelerator platform. Projects in areas such as process, factory automation and robotics are planned.

Ericsson is working also with Italy’s Comau, who’s innovation manager, Massimo Ippolito, says: “5G provides the platform for explorative analytics and real-time predictive and preventative maintenance. As performance data collected by the robots and other systems in the plant is automatically cross-referenced and processed using pattern recognition analytics, companies can identify potential breakdowns or bottlenecks on individual machines before they even happen.”

Of particular industrial significance, earlier this year, in an industry-first, Qualcomm Technologies demonstrated a wireless PROFINET industrial ethernet over 5G NR (new radio). Said the company of this feat: “The ability to run industrial ethernet over a wireless network facilitates reconfigurable factories – a key concept of Industry 4.0 – to increase productivity and flexibility. The demonstration previews new use cases for 5G NR ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) sub-millisecond latency, including the ability to run precise command-and-control for high-demand factory automation applications.”

This forthcoming mobile technology has previously been linked for industrial purposes with cloud computing, but if 5G is to support the data-intensive needs of factories treading the Industry 4.0 path, it is recognised that, just as Siemens with Industrial Edge and FANUC with FIELD are bringing this onto the shopfloor, then 5G must be able to do likewise. Ericsson is onto this, saying that with its distributed cloud offering: “We bring cloud capabilities closer to the consumer, providing a unified experience through end-to-end orchestration, increasing performance and resilience, being able to run any workload anywhere in the network.”

GSMA, the body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, is a booster for this more local data processing. Says its CTO, Alex Sinclair: “If you’re doing simultaneous real-time translation in the cloud, you need to be able to control latency and jitter. If you can’t do that, when you speak, it’s going to take a while before it comes out, so that’s where you need to push something closer to the edge.

“Now, some people think the edge means literally sitting in a [mobile] cell tower. That’s probably a little bit delusional. But to have data centres closer than the traditional players – you know, the Amazons, the Googles – that will inevitably be the case. They’re obviously moving this direction as well and I think there will be some fantastic partnership models between existing cloud providers, maybe new cloud providers, but also local clouds facilitated by [mobile network] operators.”

Latest big news from the manufacturing technology sector comes from Taiwanese machine tool giant FFG Group and fellow Taiwanese firm Adlink. Represented in the UK by MT Squared (, FFG has partnered with the Taiwan-headquartered global leader in edge computing to develop and apply the new ROS2 (Robot Operating System).

Says Jim Liu, Adlink’s CEO: “Taiwan’s manufacturing industry has robust capabilities that are well recognised by the world. By combining leading-edge 5G network technologies with open source ROS2/DDS platforms, we have crafted a highly competitive manufacturing environment converging IT [information technology], OT [operational technology] and CT [communications technology], to create a smart robotics industry ecosystem realising challenging ‘Future Factory’ implementations.”

FFG says it will build the world’s first demonstration production line for factories of the future, implementing fast and reliable ROS2-based data exchange. FFG CTO Dr Ren Luo explains: “Factories of the future incorporate numerous portable, flexible, interconnected and dynamically adjustable elements to accommodate customised production with optimal efficiency. The integration of 5G communication technologies and ROS2/DDS platforms at this time will realise high performance implementation.”

Dedicated wireless networking is critical, because, says Adlink: “With ever-growing demands for highly customised products, factories of the future require top-speed real-time data transmission across operations lines. Production line architecture must increasingly support extreme flexibility, interconnectivity and dynamic adjustability, with a wide variety of connected elements, machine-based and otherwise.”

Adlink and FFG previously participated in EU research project Clear5G (, which involved Toshiba’s UK business unit and University of Surrey. According to Adlink, ROS2 will provide system architecture enabling real-time control and reliable communication. It provides high efficiency middleware for data exchange and is quickly becoming the API standard for smart robotics development.

In this latest effort, Adlink will incorporate AI technologies to develop robot controllers with vision, detection, precision control and real-time communication capabilities as open source tools, thereby allowing standardisation of ROS2 as a common platform for mobile robots. Adlink looks to introduce more than 200 innovative smart robotics products by 2025, with this “further consolidating Taiwan’s position of global leadership in the field”.

Apart from all this forward-looking activity, there is already a real-world European example of 5G in action in manufacturing. Ericsson and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (see also box below) teamed up to explore and develop industrial applications of 5G, with the first use case being the production of blisks for MTU Aero Engines. This is Ericsson’s first published tangible 5G/manufacturing case study, in fact.

Says Thomas Dautl, director of manufacturing technology, MTU Aero Engines: “A blade-integrated disk [blisk] is a high value component. The milling process takes 15-20 hours and the total lead time is around three-four months, including coating processes and quality checks. The new 5G-based production technology will help make our operations more efficient.”

Today, there is no satisfactory way to monitor and correct the milling process while underway, and the machined end result is revealed only when the entire process is completed. Ericsson adds that rework after machining is often as high as 25% and goes on to say that milling issues, such as vibration patterns affecting the end result, could be revealed by monitoring the process in real time. This data could then be used to instantly optimise the milling process, limiting the need for rework. The continuous real-time data transfer over 5G also allows the generation of a digital twin, a virtual reflection of the component to be generated, showing the details of the process results, Ericsson offers.

The 5G-enabled blisk case alone can save approximately €27 million for one single factory, and up to €360 million globally, according to the latest Ericsson Consumer and Industry Lab Business Value Report. From a sustainability perspective, CO2 emissions from both the production of blisks and their operation in jet engines can be reduced by some 16 million tons annually, on a global basis, it is claimed.

Box item

German Industry 4.0 club offers 5G-networked machinery testbed

The three Fraunhofer Institutes for Production Technology IPT, for Laser Technology ILT and for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME will team up with the RWTH Aachen University and industrial partners to develop production systems and supply chains in line with Industry 4.0 and test their suitability for industrial applications on the basis of specific production tasks. Along with their partners, the institutes will explore various means of raising forecasting efficiency within adaptive process chains and areas of application for digital twins and big data analytics in the production environment in five pilot lines in various sectors. As part of this, research club members have access to 5G-networked machinery.

First published in Machinery, August 2018