To test out the potential for 5G to replace fixed wire connectivity in an industrial setting, Optus joined forces with industry leaders Ericsson, SICK and Universal Robots in the first-ever demonstration of 5G mmWave Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) technology in Australia.

Traditionally, only fixed wire networks have been able to deliver the reliability and low latency needed for real-time communications in industrial environments. However, this not only limits where machines and devices can be located, but the cable can also pose a safety hazard for workers. 

According to Chris Mitchell, managing director at Optus Enterprise, 5G now changes what is possible, thanks to its URLLC capabilities. 

“As Industry 4.0 matures in Australia, robots and automation are taking centre stage, changing the face of factories as we know them,” explained Mitchell. 

“Robots with embedded wireless connectivity is the future and will be able to integrate in a seamless and reliable manner, leveraging the capability of the 5G network. 

“This is truly a cordless revolution in the making – untethering robots, sensors and other machines from fixed cables.” 

URLLC technology was introduced to 5G to support use cases with stringent requirements for extremely low latency and high reliability, including industrial automation, public safety, remote diagnosis/surgery, emergency responses, autonomous driving, and smart energy systems.

Cutting the cord at the Optus campus

At the Optus campus, Optus and Ericsson successfully tested 5G’s URLLC capabilities with real-life industrial automation applications that were provided by its industry partners SICK (which will be on stand B145 at AUSPACK ) and Universal Robots.

In the demo, safety sensors monitored a robot that was performing box pallet operations at regular speed. 

When a human approached the robot, real-time communication from the sensors to the robot over 5G URLLC caused the robot to slow down or stop instantly, helping to ensure the safety of the worker.

The demo utilised 3GPP URLLC specifications, running over 5G SA (Stand-Alone) architecture and mmWave radio, and achieved one way network latencies of

Mitchell said this near-instant response with guaranteed reliability is not possible through traditional Wi-Fi or pre-5G mobile networks.

Factory firsts

Mitchell explained that with 5G URLCC, machines will no longer require wired network connections and will generally require only a power connection to function, usually widely available in a factory, meaning the production setup can easily be changed and units moved around on a day-to-day basis to maximise efficiency. 

“In addition, in a 5G-enabled environment, the bulky PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) that used to be part of robots can now be moved into the cloud,” he continued.

“This can reduce complexity of the architecture and reduce the footprint of the machines, saving valuable floor space. 

“Going wireless with 5G has implications for industries ranging from manufacturing to agriculture. Initially, however, uptake is likely to be strongest in more confined environments that are already using robotics and industrial automation.”

Where safety matters

The Optus demonstration is already garnering interest, given that safety is a key consideration across many verticals, and particularly so in environments where humans and automated machines, vehicles or robots are operating in proximity. 

Recent Safe Work Australia data shows that machinery operators and drivers are most at risk of death at work, with 8.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers – the highest risk of all occupations. 

The report showed that the top five industries for fatalities all frequently involve interactions between humans and machines. These industries are:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Transport, postal and warehousing
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining

“Similarly, falls, trips and slips, and being hit by a moving object are in the top three reasons for injuries at work,” said Mitchell. 

“Fewer cables generally mean fewer trip hazards, thus helping to improve safety in human-robot co-working spaces. And any measures that can be taken to reduce the numbers of workers injured on site by machines are to be embraced.

“In an environment where companies are searching for increased flexibility in the production automation and assembly processes – while also reducing personnel safety risks – 5G URLLC offers industry the chance to finally cut the cord.” 

Masayuki Mase, country manager at Universal Robots, believes that the precision, safety and reliability that its cobots bring to the project help to usher in the evolution of the telecommunications sector in Australia. 

“We are pleased to be collaborating with these prominent companies on this groundbreaking project. Our goals and vision align, and we look forward to what the future holds.”

Take a look at the video below for more on URLLC technology and its applications to enterprise and government sectors.

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