Industrial giant Bosch is taking the lead in 5G connectivity in partnership with Nokia.
The two companies have been demonstrating a number of 5G projects at Hannover Messe, probably among the first of their kind in the industrial sector.
One of the experts working on the project explained that “most of the industry is cabled”, meaning that robots and other machines, whether they are mobile or stationary, tend to be connected via cables, such as Ethernet, for example.
Some have tried Wi-Fi. “But Wi-Fi is not sufficient and has not provided the necessary high speed and reliability for critical applications,” said the expert.
She added that the demonstration project shows how “5G can provide ultra-fast, super-reliable” networking which can be used for critical applications, where downtime or a break in connectivity can lead to serious consequences.
She claimed 5G can guarantee data transfer across the network whereas Wi-Fi is an unlicensed portion of the spectrum which uses “best-effort network principles”, meaning it will try its best but there’s no guarantee.
But since she works for one of the companies pushing 5G over Wi-Fi, of course she would say that.
Bosch has apparently fallen for this vision and describes what it believes will be a typical facility of the future.
Bosch says that the only fixed elements will be the floor, the walls, and the roof — everything else will be movable and connected.
The company’s demonstration project depicted an environment where machines drive in and out as needed, assembly lines grow longer or shorter, autonomous transport robots deliver components to workers. Robots work directly with human colleagues, relieving them of dangerous or strenuous tasks.
Power is transmitted wirelessly via induction loops in the factory floor. Workers, machines, and components are connected via intelligent software systems and mobile devices.
An ultrafast 5G wireless network enables real-time data exchange, while artificial intelligence improves product quality through early fault detection.
This reduces the burden on workers, leaving them with more time for other tasks, such as programming algorithms, developing new business models, or taking on other creative tasks.
Bosch presented its ideas at Hannover Messe under the slogan “Factory of the future. Now. Next. Beyond.”
Some of the technologies are what the company already offers for connected factories, others are solutions will soon be ready, and others are what it is developing for the future.
People, machines, and data: the three pillars of success in the connected factory
Bosch says bringing connectivity to existing factories and equipment is also critical to the success of Industry 4.0, a term which the company’s senior executives are thought to have coined.
On 1,300 square meters of floor space at Hannover Messe, Bosch is showcasing both aspects: the smart, lean, and flexible factory of the future as well as connected solutions that are already in operation today in manufacturing and logistics.
Both scenarios have something in common: the interplay of hardware, software, and services – orchestrated by people.
“The three pillars of success in the factory of the future are people, machines, and data,” said Dr Stefan Hartung, the Bosch board of management member whose responsibilities include the industrial technology business sector.
Steady sales growth with Industry 4.0
Connected solutions helped Bosch increase its sales of industrial technology by 7.7 percent to $8 billion in 2017.
“Our portfolio of solutions for manufacturing and logistics is constantly growing, which means we can gradually turn our vision of a completely connected value stream into reality,” Hartung said.
The establishment in 2018 of the Bosch Connected Industry operating unit with 500 associates, plus the new Nexeed software portfolio, underline the importance of connectivity to Bosch.
“We are getting closer and closer to achieving our aim of exploiting Industry 4.0 to increase overall sales by more than a billion euros by 2020,” Hartung said.
“Outstanding results” from Bosch Rexroth are also helping reach this milestone, says the company, with the drive and control technology specialist generating sales of 5.5 billion euros in 2017 – a year-on-year increase of 10.4 percent.
Its strategic realignment in recent years has helped Bosch Rexroth improve its competitiveness and gain market share.
New smart plants in Mexico and China
In addition, Bosch is investing heavily in Mexico, this year’s partner country at Hannover Messe: the company is spending some 100 million euros on a smart plant for electronic components in Celaya, central Mexico, which will be completed by 2019.
Covering 21,000 square meters, the plant will manufacture engine control units for the Mexican and US markets. Bosch is looking to create more than 1,200 jobs at the new location.
“Industry 4.0 improves business processes and delivers higher productivity. That means we’re creating jobs, too,” Hartung said.
Bosch is also planning an Industry 4.0 reference factory in China. A plant for control systems and linear motion technology is being built up step by step in the city of Xian.
By 2020, it will be digitally equipped with new manufacturing processes – and visitors to the trade fair will have a chance to see what these processes might look like.
Robots generate more jobs
Hartung also stressed the importance of robotics, adding that a recent study shows it has driven an increase in jobs so far in Germany.
Economists at the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) predict that employment will grow by 0.4 percent per year until 2021.
The study reports that while robots are replacing some jobs, this is more than compensated for by job growth elsewhere. “In the Industry 4.0 era, people are as indispensable as ever,” Hartung said.
When it comes to complex tasks or quality control, robots can provide specific support. Robots as colleagues – that is the message behind the Pixar-style 3D avatars that visitors will see at the center of the Bosch booth.
Standing 1.5 meters tall, they move around on the virtual factory stage.
The APAS mobile production robot, for instance, works closely with human colleagues without coming into physical contact with them.
Meanwhile, the ActiveCockpit intelligent communications platform keeps production workers permanently up to date on the status of operations, while an autonomous transport robot not only carries parts from A to B but also works on them en route.
Machines teach themselves new skills
What makes this so exciting is that all these avatars are mock-ups of market-ready applications or pilot projects.
“We are already helping our customers optimize the management of their production lines and plants,” said Rolf Najork, the managing director of Bosch Rexroth . “But in the future, there will be even greater demand for flexibility, transparency, and speed.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a central role in this. Engineers have found a fun way to demonstrate what AI is capable of in an industrial setting: KI-cker (KI is the German abbreviation for artificial intelligence) is a take on football where the intelligent interplay of drive and control technology with artificial intelligence gradually turns the goalkeeper and the field players into talented soccer pros.
KI-cker is built around a neural network that constantly learns from its playing experience. This is how machines will teach themselves new skills in the future.
By way of examples, they can learn by themselves how to identify defects and faults – thereby continuously improving their performance.
Nexeed brings connectivity to manufacturing and logistics
Hardware applications need innovative software solutions running in the background to provide the necessary connectivity. At Hannover Messe, Bosch is presenting its new Nexeed software portfolio, which encompasses software and services for the entire value stream.
“The factory of the future will get its intelligence from software – and from the brains of its workforce,” said Dr Stefan Aßmann, who heads up Bosch connected industry.
Aßmann says Bosch has “systematically taken the comprehensive domain knowledge from its more than 270 plants and transformed it into software solution”s.
“Specialists in manufacturing, logistics, and software have worked together to create solutions that both simplify workers’ daily routines and make manufacturing and logistics more efficient, flexible, and eco-friendly.”
Stay on top of goods’ location and condition
The Nexeed Production Performance Manager ensures systematic improvements in production by helping quality and maintenance operatives make decisions quickly and easily.
To do so, it gathers and harmonizes real-time production and machine data from a variety of sources in the manufacturing environment, gives it a clear structure, and presents it to workers on their mobile devices. This saves both time and money. Nexeed Track & Trace is a solution for monitoring the flow of goods.
Sensors fitted to the goods themselves autonomously report their position and condition via the cellular network to the cloud. This means logisticians can trace each product and each carrier. It also means users can call up the precise delivery time and optimize their material and capacity planning. That, too, saves both time and money.
(Main picture shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Bosch stand at Hannover Messe 2018, with Stefan Hartung making a presentation, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on the right.)