Where has 5G been deployed to enable factory robots?

In partnership with West Midlands 5G, MTC is launching its 5G capability, trialling a purpose-built private 5G network aimed at helping manufacturers to boost resilience and productivity through innovation. The 5G-enabled system features automated logistics, robotics and vision inspection to serve production lines with varied inspection requirements. Autonomous mobile robots will transport components across the factory to and from a fully automated visual inspection cell, where a high definition camera mounted on a robot arm will capture the product and a vision software will check against component design specifications. The robots will re-orientate to assist the operation and a safety laser scanner will be used for safe process execution. By communicating with each other through 5G, speedy visual inspections will check each component meets specifications before autonomously delivering them to a following stage in the process based on the inspection outcomes. The 5G private network allows for the implementation of an intelligent, highly flexible inspection solution, able to measure and analyse varied products at any time. 

In South Korea, major telecommunications operator KT is supplying an industrial robot for packaging processes to a local auto parts maker, Parkwon. This bot is controlled by KT’s 5G service and is said to be able to cut down packaging times by 28%. Meanwhile, Pickit has created robots equipped with HD cameras that can use computer vision to locate parts. Since 5G enhances computing power beyond device capacity, data analysis can occur in the edge cloud. The robots themselves require minimal processing power.

Already, hundreds of companies have automated with Pickit, achieving overwhelming positive results: 
“What we saw was consistency—it runs at a certain rate all the time,” said Adam Wiltsie, Plant Manager, Vanamatic. 

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Vodafone and ABB have worked together to design and prototype an innovative assembly station using a two-armed collaborative robot, called YuMi which works by an operator’s side to complete tasks like assembling  valves. The cobot adapts to human movements in real-time and instantaneously gathers and transfers data. A vision system built into the cobot allows it to perceive the environment, watch the operator and adjust its actions and trajectories as necessary.

AI software enables the cobot to recognise and predict human movement and actions so it can  safely coordinate with the operator, forming an augmented partnership between the two – enhancing productivity as well as the ergonomics to improve the operator’s working conditions.

5G wireless communication enables a revolutionary, flexible design of the assembly cell. It facilitates communication and large throughput between the data-intensive intelligent vision system and YuMi. In addition, the 5G network allows the system to remotely run powerful algorithms, i.e. machine learning, and to process the collected data in real time.

Ericsson and Audi have successfully tested a robot cell similar to those operating in Audi factories today, but over 5G connectivity. A robot arm was used to build an airbag while a laser curtain protected the open side of the robot cell; the ultra-low latency and reliability of 5G ensured that if a factory worker were to reach into the cell, the robot would stop instantly, preventing accidents. This quick response is not possible through traditional Wi-Fi or previous-generation mobile networks: such machines typically require restrictive wired technology. A 5G network, therefore, increases the flexibility, safety and efficiency of a production line and allows closer cooperation and working between robot and human

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According to recent research by Ericsson, Autonomous Mobile Robots offer many benefits, such as freeing up forklift operators to do other factory tasks, and improving worker safety since robots can easily manoeuvre through hazardous environments. Plus, they handle materials much more accurately, so can eliminate up to 30% of typical scrap.