How 5G is contributing to Industry 4.0
Over the Covid-19 pandemic, industries have begun to boom with digital transformation. New and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) have particularly taken off, but how are these technologies being efficiently connected?
In the era of Industry 4.0, it’s 5G that has laid the foundations for enterprise’s digital transformation. Machine learning, AI, and IoT all greatly depend on the high-bandwidth, low-latency attributes a 5G connection provides, and workplaces such as construction sites need standalone 5G to truly see the advances digital transformation can offer.
With 5G-enabled digital transformation, businesses can expect to see even smarter robots, powered by machine learning and AI, with improved productivity and monitorisation. Not only will the machines improve in efficiency but so will the workers, who can also benefit from greater safety.
According to Nokia, 75% of businesses already use 5G for video monitoring purposes, but they also want to go further, such as using video with analytics as a sensor to detect risks, defects and to enable real-time detection of faces, objects, risks, and incidents – something 5G can facilitate.
Nokia found that energy and manufacturing show the highest awareness of 5G and are exploring its potential for advanced use cases including maintenance, remote machine control, and cloud robotics.
TechInformed looks at three use cases of 5G connectivity in energy, construction, and robotics – provided by the mobile industry body, the GSMA – and how they have helped with digital transformation.
Windfarms – how 5G can turbo-charge wind energy
Wind turbines depend on high-speed winds to extract the optimum amount of energy they can. However, as they rotate and obtain energy from the wind they also produce a ‘wake’ – which means the wind that passes through them becomes turbulent and significantly decreases in speed.
The wake from the initial wind turbines interferes with the effectiveness of the wind turbines around them, and so disturbing their energy production. As a result, they need to be spaced far apart which then limits the number of turbines that can be deployed in a specific location.
Cloud-computing service Vayu AI is testing a solution to combat this in Montana, USA using a private 5G network. It is using autonomous drones that utilises 5G connectivity to relay real-time data about the position of the wind turbines and the rotation of nearby turbines to a control system.
Supported by machine learning, the system can change the angle of each turbine so that they can work harmoniously to produce better results – a process known as wake steering.
This solution allows wind farms to place turbines closer together, increasing overall energy production.
Plant-wide wake steering could enable a 30% reduction in the space between turbines in onshore wind farms, according to an April 2021 paper published in the Journal of renewable and sustainable energy.
Having assessed 1,500 US wind farms, Vayu AI believes that advanced wake steering technology could increase the capacity of wind farms by 30% and 68%.
For offshore wind farms, in which wind turbines need to be closer together, wake steering will be extremely beneficial and vital.
This data collected by 5G networks will allow for the creation of digital twins of wind farms, that can deliver an upgrade in their efficiency and productivity.
Ultimately, wake steering could enable the energy produced by wind farms to be doubled. That would make it possible to build wind farms in many more locations where they are less likely to face resistance.
Robots – making manufacturing more productive
In factories, transfer robots are used to move heavy objects along programmed routes. Although they take a weight off of human labour, they could be digitised further as their routes are awkward to alter and they can also be hazardous to human employees.
This is because the programmed routes are fixed and expensive to modify, which limits the flexibility of the factory to respond efficiently to alterations.
Alongside that, transfer robots have to work completely separately from human workers to lessen the risk of collisions and accidents, which means a large amount of factory space is wasted.
IoT provider Thundercomm’s 5G industrial transfer robots can fix this by installing artificial intelligence into the robots, making them smarter and helping to improve their performance over time.
By using on-board cameras on the robot, they capture still or moving images to help train them to recognise specific objects. Then, the machine learning takes place in the cloud or at an edge computing facility, which uses the results to improve image recognition software that’s run on the robot’s onboard modules.
The ‘5G robots’ also use their machine vision to make factories safer by being able to detect workers in the vicinity and take appropriate actions to prevent accidents.
“Together, robotics, 5G, and artificial intelligence are a potent combination of technologies that could be applied to develop valuable propositions, including self-driving cars and drones. Thundercomm is also working with Meituan, a leading Chinese Internet company, to develop 5G connected delivery drones. Having developed a prototype, Meituan plans to begin using 5G drones for deliveries during 2022.”
“Most factories in China will ultimately come to rely on 5G connectivity. It estimates 5G could improve productivity in manufacturing plants by more than 10%, potentially adding hundreds of billions of dollars to China’s economic output.”
Construction – supporting safe and efficient building sites
As building sites are dynamic and temporary, they tend to lack secure monitorisation and the ICT infrastructure to really benefit from digital technologies.
Telecoms provider Singtel has tackled both of these challenges by deploying a standalone 5G network and edge computing capacity to support a construction site in Singapore.
At the construction site, owned by construction and engineering contractor Gammon, 5G is used to connect robots that can scan the site in 3D, CCTV cameras (that supply footage to image recognition software), drones, and headsets for augmented reality services.
Supported by high-capacity and low latency connectivity, these high-resolution cameras particularly help monitor large and complex construction sites.
Gammon estimates that using 5G-connected robots, rather than human beings, to scan construction sites could lead to a 30% to 40% improvement in productivity for this process.
At the same time, it believes 5G connected CCTV cameras will significantly improve safety by enabling image recognition systems to immediately detect potential hazards.
“A supervisor can only watch one place at a time. With connected high-resolution cameras, I can run all these different AI algorithms on the same video feed on the edge compute to check for safety equipment, clustering, social distancing, and other potential hazards. The supervisor can be alerted through their mobile computing device if there are breaches.” James Chan, assistant director, 5G ecosystem and partnerships at Singtel explained.
The 5G-enabled cameras can also provide the opportunity of digital models/twins of a building site, which can be used to monitor progress, verify the quality of work, manage assets and equipment, and ensure safety and environmental regulations are being complied with.
“You’re essentially taking an operations team or your safety team and you’re going through the step-by-step installation in the actual location on-site, a digital trial run for the upcoming activity.” Micheal O’Connell, general manager at Gammon said.
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