Over the previous decades, wireless communication technologies primarily addressed delivery of high-speed data primarily to consumers using a smartphone device. Standardization of 5G, within 3GPP, started with a vision to address many more verticals than smartphone use case. Hence, 5G was designed from the ground up with ultra-reliability, low latency, and a broad range of spectrum options in mind to meet the demanding requirements for many mission-critical industry verticals. These new capabilities made 5G a perfect fit for industrial automation and Industrial IoT in general. With private networks, 5G can deliver these benefits with ultra-high capacity and low latency for numerous industrial sensors, actuators and controllers in standard and safety control applications, both in mmWave and conventional sub-6 GHz spectrum. 5G offers the promise of being a viable technology to augment, and even replace, traditional wired industrial network connections—a game changer in terms of cost, flexibility, reconfigurability, sustainability and time-to-market for industrial operations around the world.
The manufacturing industry needs to be flexible to ever-changing market demands. For example, they needed to retool their industrial operations to meet shifting demand during the pandemic: switching from soda to sanitizer, clothing to medical masks or automotive parts to ventilators. The lesson is that agility, efficiency, resiliency and sustainability in smart manufacturing is a critical national imperative.
Industrial Private 5G is an enabler of digital transformation in smart manufacturing to help deliver business outcomes, such as sustainability and agility by supporting key application use cases:
- Connected worker applications increase visibility and intelligence through mobile digital tools, such as analytics, digital twins and augmented reality
- Mobile asset applications increase agility and efficiency with autonomous vehicles, such as automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots
- Untethered fixed industrial asset applications improve sustainability by reducing the need for wired infrastructure to connect static equipment, static equipment with rotating parts (slip-ring replacement) and nomadic equipment (operational while static, non-operational while mobile). Untethered fixed industrial assets also increase agility by reducing the time to retool industrial operations to respond to changing market conditions.
Can industrial Private 5G help to enable these application uses cases within manufacturing and process operations? To address this question, Rockwell Automation (an industry leader in industrial automation) collaborated with Ericsson (an industry leader in cellular networking infrastructure) and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (an industry leader in 5G technology). The research collaboration evaluated industrial Private 5G technology with EtherNet/IP™ connectivity, the core industrial communications technology from Rockwell Automation. The key learning objective was to ensure that EtherNet/IP networks are ready for industrial Private 5G, and to confirm that industrial Private 5G is ready for demanding EtherNet/IP applications.
This illustration is a simplified representation of the testbed developed, illustrating an untethered fixed industrial asset application use case, consisting of:
- Rockwell Automation standard and safety control. One area controller with a GuardLogix® safety controller. Twelve distributed areas with FLEX 5000® standard and safety I/O, representing skids, machines or equipment. Note, the purpose of the safety controller in each distributed area was to collect testbed telemetry data only.
- Ericsson radio access network (RAN) infrastructure. Composed of a mmWave base station using 28 GHz (n261) and LTE band 2 using Release 15, and Private 5G core (3GPP Release-15, non-standalone (NSA), on-premise).
- Qualcomm Mobile Test Platform. A mobile test platform for data collection and traffic flow analysis, used as an industrial 5G to Ethernet adapter, referred to as user equipment.
Tests were run according to a well-established test plan provided by Rockwell Automation with strict success criteria of zero faults. It outlined a series of test cases to establish reliable EtherNet/IP standard and safety (CIP Safety™) I/O connections from the GuardLogix area controller on the left, with a range of requested packet interval (RPI) settings, over the 5G RAN to the FLEX 5000 standard and safety I/O in areas 1 through 12 on the right. RPI is the rate at which the controller and the I/O exchange data.
The successful test results demonstrated that the current state of industrial Private 5G (3GPP Release-15, NSA, on-premise, mmWave spectrum) has low enough latency and jitter to support RPI settings that are better than the Rockwell Automation default settings for EtherNet/IP standard and safety I/O connections. These RPI settings will support many untethered fixed industrial asset applications (skids, machines, or equipment) that use EtherNet/IP standard and safety I/O communications.
The outcomes of the learning objective emphasized:
- EtherNet/IP is ready for industrial Private 5G.
- The current state of industrial Private 5G is ready for EtherNet/IP standard and safety I/O applications.
- Industrial Private 5G can help to enable business outcomes such as increased sustainability and improved agility within industrial operations.
The research collaboration will continue, with plans to evaluate EtherNet/IP time synchronization (CIP Sync™) and distributed motion (CIP Motion™) applications over 3GPP Release 16 standalone (SA) industrial Private 5G. The results of an initial proof-of-concept test were promising.
In summary, thanks to the collaboration between Rockwell Automation, Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies, we are able to verify that real 5G enabled industrial automation test cases work as promised. Industrial operations can thus take advantage of the 5G standard today to meet their high-performance wireless connectivity and business assurance needs as they evolve toward smart manufacturing.