The guarded intellectual property and closed quarters of high-tech factories and distribution centers make them a perfect fit for private 5G networks and small-cell technology. At the same time, smart factory data rates from 1-20 Gb/sec. Ultra-reliable, low-latency communication (URLLC), and IoT connection density in the millions combine to make factory automation a demanding use case. Although private 5G networks can safeguard security and latency requirements, high-volume Industry 4.0 computing and data storage rely on hyperscale horsepower.
Data center software is essential for coordinating and analyzing IoT data, optimizing production processes and determining predictive maintenance trigger points. Public cloud services are a scalable option for AI computing and big data storage. Encryption techniques alleviate the privacy and security concerns of factory operators partnering with hyperscalers.
Factory Automation Benefits
First and foremost among next generation factory automation benefits is the improved productivity. It comes from continuous real-time monitoring and automated decision-making. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication allows real-time data from multiple sources to be analysed continuously. Advanced algorithms produce decisions that automatically correct, revise, or optimize processes.
What was once just a screwdriver is now an IIoT device continuously streaming information on torque, wear, and 3D position. Predictive maintenance processes analyse data from millions of tools, devices, and machines. It determines precisely when calibration and maintenance are needed and what the service should include. Although sensors have collected industrial data for decades, the low latency and intelligence of 5G introduce a more dynamic maintenance loop where equipment breakdowns and excessive wear are all but eliminated. Hyperscale cloud computing power converts the sensory feedback into actionable maintenance schedules, work orders, and procurement plans.
Workplace safety contributes to ongoing employee satisfaction and retention. Hyperscale artificial intelligence orchestrated tightly choreographed movement of parts, machines, and vehicles. It considers the role of human operators as they interact with smart factory elements. Enhanced Industry 4.0 visibility translates into improved workplace safety. The equipment degradation is detected in real-time and workers are alerted to potential hazards. Accidents can be reported immediately with operations automatically paused while the proper response is organized.
Beyond the unprecedented factory awareness made possible by the IIoT, next-generation factory automation also enables production lines to be scaled up or down quickly. Production changeovers in the “Industry 3.0” ecosystem involved manual, time-consuming adjustments to production layouts, purchase orders, and logistics. Hyperscale computing power offloads this analysis and automates the changeover process. This agility also extends to new product design, packaging, and inspection processes that are virtually modeled and optimized before they ever reach the floor.
Industry 5.0 and Beyond
Throughout the history of factory automation, improved technology has led to higher productivity, safety, and worker satisfaction. The electricity and computing power that marked previous transitions also led to skepticism. The melding of 5G, hyperscale computing, and factory automation will produce unlimited benefits and opportunities. Efficiency will soar and computers assume ownership of mundane and dangerous tasks.
Breakthrough innovations ranging from augmented reality to cyborg operators could bring us closer to “Industry 5.0”. Despite calls for a return to a more human-centric industrial environment, it is likely that computer technology will remain at the heart of the discussion. Hyperscale data centers will continue to enable this progression as computing power and big data storage foster the next big thing.
By developing test solutions and expertise that bridge the gap between private 5G networks and hyperscale data centers, VIAVI is lighting a path to efficient, reliable next-generation factory automation. An interoperable portfolio of network testing, performance optimization & service assurance tools support the most complex hybrid ecosystems and deliver unparalleled visibility into network operation and services at all stages of the lifecycle.
About the author:
Sameh Yamany is the Chief Technology Officer at VIAVI Solutions.