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Festo and Huawei collaborate on smart 5G manufacturing

11 September, 2017

The Chinese telecommunications and electronics giant Huawei has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the German pneumatics and automation supplier Festo to explore the use of ultra-high-speed 5G networks in manufacturing, and to promote the digital transformation of manufacturing using 5G “slicing” technology.

In particular, they plan to work on 5G cloud robotics in which computation is moved from robots to the cloud. For this to work, low-latency control loops are essential, and high-speed 5G transmissions must be used to link the robots to the cloud.

Huawei and Festo have already demonstrated a mobile robot with six degrees of freedom that balances a ball on platform consisting of a tablet with a resistive touchscreen. Data on the ball’s position and trajectory is sent from the screen via 5G to the cloud where a control algorithm calculates the movements that the robot needs to make to keep the ball at the centre of the tablet. Instructions are sent back to the robot (again via 5G) to control all six axes to balance the ball in real time.

The demo was intended to prove the viability of the Robot as a Service (RaaS) concept. Combining 5G-based RaaS with the cloud has the potential to decouple robots from rapidly-changing computing requirements. The demo also shows it is possible to use low-latency wireless communications for real-time control loops.

The partners plan to use 5G slicing technology – an architecture that allows multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. They believe that a uRLLC (Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications) slice can meet the real-time and reliability requirements of closed control loops. A robot’s movements and control messages can then be calculated in the cloud, supporting low-latency services and saving energy.

“Mobile communications networks are evolving rapidly, and will gradually penetrate a variety of vertical industries,” suggests Yang Chaobin, president of Huawei’s 5G network products. “5G will meet the diversified network needs of industry, enabling more vertical industry applications with end-to-end slicing solutions.

The Huawei-Festo ball-balancing robot demonstration shows that 5G transmissions are fast enough for control algorithms in the cloud to keep the ball at the centre of the tablet by controlling all six axes in real time

“Our cooperation with Festo will promote development of an intelligent manufacturing industry,” he adds.

“In the factory of the future, everyone and everything will stay connected to rely on manufacturing services provided in industrial clouds,” predicts Dirk Pensky, head of Festo’s software engineering department. “On the one hand, some of those services need high bandwidth to transfer information to and from the cloud – for example, image processing and AR/VR services. On the other hand, industrial control services require low to ultra-low latency and the highest reliability.

“Festo is involved in different activities to shape the future of our factories,” Pensky explains. “5G will become the communication technology for smart manufacturing and we aim to prove that with this cooperation.”

The ball-balancing demonstration could be a forerunner of future automation applications where computations are performed in the cloud and transmitted up and back fast enough to allow real-time control

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