Drives and Controls Magazine
Europe's biggest 5G research network targets factory apps
Published:  18 May, 2020

Europe’s largest 5G research network has gone live in Germany with the aim of developing technologies and applications for digitised and networked production in factories. The German government is contributing almost €6.2m towards the cost of establishing and running the 5G Industry Campus Europe, which covers an area of 1km2 at RWTH Aachen University, including 7,000m2 of machine halls.

Over the coming three years , various 5G industrial applications will be tested – from sensor technologies for monitoring and controlling complex production processes, to mobile robotics and logistics and cross-location production chains.

Another aim is to test the use of edge-cloud systems for fast data processing to exploit the potential of 5G for networked and adaptive production. “With the intelligent interaction of the 5G network and local edge-cloud systems, we are able to implement end-to-end real-time applications in a scalable way – from the sensor to the cloud,” explains Sven Jung, who is heading the technical side of the initiative.

The project has been granted a 5G licence to operate in the 3.7–3.8GHz band. It will include 19 antennae and operate with a bandwidth of 10Gb/s.

“This is where the future for innovative production will be created,” says the project leader, Niels König. “Together with companies and research partners, we are creating a completely new infrastructure where we can test and try out different 5G applications in production and logistics. This will completely redefine the previous requirements for the industries.”

In one project planned for the centre, called 5GSensPro, eight partners will develop a modular, expandable sensor cloud system, to create a flexible, wireless production environment that adds new functions and tools to existing production machines.

Other planned projects include:

5G-Multisensor This will develop and test a multi-sensor system that avoids the latency issues of current communications technologies such as Bluetooth and WLAN, and will capture physical data with much less interference.

5G-AE Sensor This will detect tool breakages on milling machines using a fast-reacting wireless technology.

5G-Blockchain The aim of this project is to test the limits of wireless 5G networks in factories as part of a block-based data economy.

5G-Logistics An autonomous logistics system will be set up at the 5G-Industry Campus to demonstrate how 5G can be used to coordinate autonomous systems in a supply chain. The increasing use of AGVs in workshops and logistics is reaching barriers in terms of the capabilities of existing wireless communications.

The 5G Industry Campus Europe aims to develop and implement applications for 5G-based digitised and networked production.Image: Ericsson

5G-Robotics Complex assembly tasks require the synchronised processing of multiple robot operations. Low-latency wireless connections are needed to ensure resource mobility and connections to external measurement, sensor and control systems. The aim of this project is to create a control system for cooperating mobile robots that are connected wirelessly.

5G-Cockpit Production processes can now take place in many places around the world, resulting in quality variations between the locations. The aim of this project is to monitor different processes and make production transparent. Data will be collected and compared on one platform and processes optimised. The project will monitor processes and acquire data in real time via the cloud to run the same optimised process at all locations.

5G-Edge-Cloud 5G enables reliable, real-time communications in factory cloud systems. Complementary real-time-capable computing platforms and applications need to be designed and implemented. In this project, a low-latency, real-time data analysis platform will be created for closed-loop manufacturing applications. It will use a factory cloud system connected to 5G.

5G-3D Sensor Low latencies are needed to capture component geometries in three dimensions using light-section sensors and to transfer them in real time from different data sources to ensure synchronicity. This project will test a wireless light-section sensor for 3D acquisition of component geometries for applications such as additive manufacturing.

The 5G Industry Campus Europe project will be managed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT). Other members of the consortium include the RWTH Aachen University’s Institute for Industrial Management (FIR), and its Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL). Ericsson is supplying the 5G technology.

Other RWTH Aachen University institutes are expected to join the initiative in the future.