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CONNECTED: 5G on the Factory Floor

Carmakers aim to make the most of high-speed communications

Just as the first vehicles are starting to be equipped with 5G communications networks, automakers also have begun to implement the technology in their manufacturing facilities.

As with 5G-enabled cars and smartphones, production benefits come from increased data transmission rates, low latency and high reliability. 5G systems eventually are expected to operate at speeds of more than 5 gigabits per second—about 10 times the speed of current 4G LTE modems—with one-tenth the latency.

But instead of streaming movies into a car or enabling autonomous vehicle functions, 5G manufacturing applications will allow real-time data sharing throughout a factory—and among production partners—to improve operating efficiencies and quickly identify potential problem areas.

5G manufacturing applications will allow real-time data sharing throughout a factory to improve operating efficiencies and quickly identify potential problem areas.

BMW Adds 5G at Plants in China

BMW AG’s joint venture with Brilliance Automotive Group Holdings in China has installed 5G communication networks at all three of its manufacturing facilities.

Getting Started

Several German carmakers have begun testing 5G systems in their facilities as part of larger Industry 4.0 initiatives.

BMW has emerged as one of the early leaders. The luxury automaker, which already operates 5G networks at three plants in China with joint venture partner Brilliance Automotive, launched a large-scale trial late in 2019 at its massive Dingolfing complex in Germany.

The Dingolfing program connects various production equipment and machinery, enabling large amounts of data to be quickly shared between them. This allows the plant to track individual parts movement, monitor machines and quality in real-time and make adjustments as needed to limit bottlenecks and downtime.

Additional sub-projects will expand 5G to logistics robots, mobile devices and digital displays to further test connectivity between different systems and the facility’s overall management network.

In China, the two joint venture assembly plants and engine factory have a combined 21 antennas and 35 5G base stations, providing coverage to more than 32 million sq ft. In addition to connecting production equipment, 5G is used to transfer large amounts of information from vehicles as they’re being built to the data center, which BMW says enables improved in-process and end-of-the-line testing and diagnostics.

Future 5G applications could include augmented reality, cloud-based control of autonomous transport systems, human-to-machine interaction using mobile smart devices and robot-to-robot communications, according to the carmaker.

More Testing

Audi and Mercedes-Benz also are testing 5G systems.

Audi is partnering with Swedish telecommunications giant LM Ericsson to use 5G communications technology in advanced manufacturing applications at the carmaker’s production Lab in Gaimersheim, Germany, to simulate processes used at Audi’s main assembly plant in nearby Ingolstadt.

In the first phase of the project, the partners will test a “latency-critical” application using wirelessly connected robots involved in gluing applications during the vehicle body assembly process. The laboratory will be equipped with Ericsson's proof-of-concept 5G network that is designed to integrate various technologies, such as wi-fi, wireless local area networks and wired ethernet-equipped production tools.

Meanwhile, Mercedes is equipping its new “Factory 56” manufacturing plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, with 5G. The so-called factory-of-the-future complex, which will build the next-generation S-Class sedan and upcoming EQ-badged electric vehicles, will include a network from Ericsson and Telefonica Deutschland.

To ensure optimal performance, the network will use several small-cell indoor antennas and a central 5G hub. Information can be shared and protected as necessary via the local network, according to the partners.

Like its German rivals, Mercedes expects 5G to boost efficiencies, reduce costs and enable greater flexibility across its global manufacturing operations as the company gradually expands the technology to other facilities.

Mercedes Factory of the Future Gets 5G

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz unit is equipping its new “Factory 56” manufacturing plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, with a 5G communications network.


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