To unleash the full potential of 5G, Bosch has installed its first 5G campus network at its main factory in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, Germany. ..
5G accelerates the internet of things and supports Industry 4.0. As it is deployed in factories, sensor-based monitoring and maintenance systems, machinery, and logistics equipment benefit from faster, more reliable, and real-time wireless data transfers. To unleash the full potential of 5G, Bosch has installed its first 5G campus network at its main factory in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, Germany.
Operating a 5G campus network at Bosch’s main Industry 4.0 factory in Stuttgart-Feuerbach was made possible after the German authorities allowed companies to set up their own local campus networks. The Bundesnetzagentur – the regulatory authority responsible for frequency allocation in Germany – recently changed its policy and now offers companies licenses for their private use. Bosch applied for 5G licenses for selected German locations and received operating licenses for its lead plant in Stuttgart-Feuerbach and research campus in Renningen.
Implementing 5G campus networks is like entering uncharted territory – challenges arose at the network planning stage. Traditional network planning generally focuses on network coverage and the feasible data transfer rate. “In a factory, however, criteria such as latency and reliability also play a role,” said Müller, head of Communication and Network Technology in the corporate sector for research and advance engineering at Robert Bosch GmbH, on the company’s website. “Guaranteeing 99.9999% reliability is not so easy from a planning perspective.” Müller also coordinates group-wide 5G activities as part of the proprietary Industry 4.0 initiative.
5G enables top data rates of 20 gigabits a second, up to 20 times faster than 4G. It can transfer data instantaneously with a latency of one millisecond and is up to 99.9999 percent reliable – in other words, almost as safe as data transmission through a wire. Beyond that, questions about the 5G network topology arose – how exactly the network is going to be constructed. “Working out the details of how to integrate it securely into existing structures, for example the existing network, was also very challenging,” said Müller.
It was then decided to build up the 5G campus network with eight small base stations based on Bosch Rexroth’s control system ctrlX AUTOMATION. The small base stations are integrated into the existing IT infrastructure and bridges the gap between control systems, IT, and the internet of things. This network structure allows it to be optimized and tailored for actual applications. Furthermore, it ensures ubiquitous and uninterrupted network coverage which results in good signal reception throughout the manufacturing facility, which here covers around 10,000 square metres. That also means it lets wirelessly connected machines and systems communicate with each other continuously and in real time and exchange data within milliseconds. These features are necessary for demanding Industry 4.0 applications like autonomous transport systems on the factory floor. In this case, Bosch is using its ActiveShuttle, an initial prototype for a 5G-capable autonomous transport system, in the Feuerbach plant.
To integrate this autonomous transport system into the 5G network in the first stage the current Wi-Fi connection was replaced with 5G. “That has already brought many advantages, such as a more stable connection and the avoidance of interruptions to communication when switching between different wireless access nodes,” explained Müller. In the second stage, it is planned to shift the “intelligence” of the transport system, i.e., key control functions, to a local cloud and to use 5G for data transfer between the machine and IT infrastructure. Müller is convinced that this will pave the way for more affordable devices, and improve maintenance, safety, security, and scalability. “At the same time, we’ll be able to realize new functions relatively easily, such as cooperative maneuvers between different transport systems. What we’re currently looking into is these sorts of approaches, which weren’t possible before 5G,” said Müller. These include mobile robotics, autonomous transport vehicles, and human-machine interactions. The first prototypes of such systems will be available in the next few months.
Because there are already companies in the market which offer various 5G components, Bosch decided not to reinvent the wheel but to look for partners to establish its 5G campus network. “We select our partners on a project-related basis,” Müller indicated. “In the current phase, it is also important to get to know the offers of different providers even better. At the Stuttgart-Feuerbach plant, for example, we have implemented the network construction with Nokia.” While Bosch defined use cases, Nokia supplied the 5G infrastructure components. Both companies carried out the network planning together and are jointly responsible for its operation and servicing. It is also planned to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) functions into the 5G network. Nokia is a member of the KICK (Künstliche Intelligenz für die Campus-Kommunikation, or Artificial Intelligence for Campus Communication, project, founded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The members of this project are working on how AI can simplify the operation and maintenance of 5G campus networks. “Often, it’s the way how to combine the trio of 5G, edge computing, and AI that leads to completely new solutions.”
“We’re still in the process of evaluating 5G’s full potential and working out new manufacturing concepts. This takes time and will happen first at selected locations that do pioneering work for the entire Bosch network,” Müller concluded.