Huawei and Beckhoff Automation GmbH & Co. KG have demonstrated a key 5G technology for enabling the factory of tomorrow: the wireless Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).

During the successful proof-of-concept trial at Hannover Messe, the two companies showed communications between two cooperating PLCs using a 5G-orientated wireless industrial network prototype rather than using legacy cable.

Due to the direct integration of cellular technology into the industrial PLCs, industrial automation will be realized in a more economically and environmentally sustainable manner compared to today’s wired line.

Pierce Owen, Principal Analyst, ABI Research says, currently, wireless PLCs tend to connect using low-power, short-range technology, such as ZigBee.

He said, using 5G comes with many advantages, such as increased range for remote control with higher performing connectivity and URLLC.

“Latency as low as 1 ms will improve operators’ reaction time to events and enable safer automation of operations and instant diagnosis of faults,” he said.

However, over the past several decades, manufacturers have changed the way they do business through lean manufacturing, digitalization, and now, the Industrial IoT (IIoT).

He mentioned that, throughout this they have faced the same challenges of maximizing productivity and efficiency, adapting to customer orders and demands, and minimizing downtime.

He stressed on the fact that, the need to minimize costs while keeping safety a paramount importance, is opening the way for new technologies that allow machines to communicate with each other.

Beckhoff expects new applications with wireless communication through the targets set by the 5G community.

Some examples include the horizontal coupling of machines in a factory or the vertical connection of machines to a global cloud.

Per the first results of the cooperation with Huawei X Labs it has been confirmed that, monitoring a machine by attaching (additional) sensors can also be done wirelessly, for example, for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance with the help of low latencies.

Report by: Stephanie Horsu