ABB exploit digital innovation with partners in 5G advances

December 14, 2021 | 07:00
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With the megatrend of digitalisation ramping up quickly, vertical industries are looking to improve competitiveness through deeper integration of value networks, operations processes, and production equipment. More than ever, automation systems are expected to enable flexibility, increase productivity, and decrease the operational risk for their owners.
ABB exploit digital innovation with partners in 5G advances
New technology like 5G can support industries with automation and tremendously speed up operations

For automation vendors, this means extending the focus from the automation of energy and material flows to the automation of information flows and digital processes – even between different vertical industries.

As outlined, 5G industrial applications can run concurrently over the same network infrastructure, contingent on the availability of adequate radio and network resources. These resources can be reconfigured in software to adapt to the changing mix of needs in adaptive production systems.

Since network performance can be tailored in a very granular manner, incremental cost by adding resources adds incremental value to application-specific performance.

Beyond the technical innovations, added customer value is the main driver behind ABB’s engagement in 5G. For example, for the first time, it may be feasible to offload the ownership and operation of a mission-critical automation infrastructure to an automation provider. Plant and factory owners can choose to rid themselves of the cost and effort of operating and maintaining hardware but retain control of their controllers and devices. In this way, it becomes possible to keep or to transfer operational risk.

5G also helps to improve productivity. The ability to add and connect sensors without added infrastructure cost is a catalyst for increasing the digitalisation level of physical production processes and infrastructures. Added data means added insight into processes and products that can be used by machine-learning algorithms to predict and prevent system downtime and quality issues.

There are other key value propositions. 5G will improve flexibility within production processes, as wireless communication in general allows for easier re-arrangement of machines, production modules, or material transport with automated vehicles. The technology specifically adds the reliability and determinism needed for such flexibility on an industrial scale.

It also fosters sustainability and is itself a sustainable technology. 5G infrastructure can be shared between different applications and industrial domains, and the sensors or cellular automation equipment invested in today are expected to last for many years.

Together, 5G and time-sensitive networking – through a set of global standards that provides deterministic networking at lower levels – set out to provide universal connectivity and computation for industrial systems and large-scale infrastructure. Automation functions in safety applications, closed-loop control, operations, data analytics, or machine learning will be able to negotiate the resources they require without having to consider communication protocols or deployment questions.

5G is a complex yet versatile communication ecosystem that incorporates a range of different radio technologies, global wire-bound wide-area networks, powerful computers, and a significant amount of intelligent software functions.

With configurable communication performance, low-power radio option, collocated computation, and availability through subscriptions, 5G surpasses existing communication technologies for industrial applications.

Today, ABB delivers telecommunications solutions in oil and gas environments, and cellular technology is already a part of many of our products. We are also among the first companies to leverage the narrowband Internet of Things cellular protocol to enable fleet management and telemetry applications for improved asset availability.

To exploit the digital opportunities ahead, ABB partners with world-leading companies in ICT such as IBM, Microsoft, HPE, and Ericsson. Together, ABB and Ericsson are driving the standardisation, regulation, and technology development of 5G, in which the key objectives are the availability of the local spectrum and hardening of technology for industrial-use cases.

By Dirk Schulz - Senior principal scientist, ABB Corporate Research Center

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