In order to participate in various research projects, develop innovative products and implement a smart factory, the intralogistics provider STILL has now set up its own 5G network at its Hamburg headquarters.
Already today, we see largely autonomous transport vehicles in production halls and warehouses. However, their capabilities still remain inferior to those of humans, as many processes still need to be learned and are not intelligent in every respect. Therefore, many suppliers are striving to fill this gap and make vehicles even more intelligent.
This broader vision of autonomously driving transport vehicles, however, can only be realised with very powerful mobile networks in order to move large amounts of data safely, promptly and efficiently. For this reason, STILL, which has always been very intensively involved in the development of innovative logistics and production solutions, has now installed its own 5G-SA campus network at its corporate headquarters in Hamburg.
“This 5G network, with which we are once again underlining our innovativeness, as 5G is not yet widespread in industry today, will on the one hand help us to take autonomously running logistics processes to a new level for our customers,” says Ansgar Bergmann, STILL expert for data and networking, describing the most important reasons for installing the company’s own 5G network.
“To this end, we have already been participating in numerous international research projects for many years that explore the idea of Industry 4.0. On the other hand, we will optimise our production with super-fast data transmission technology. In future, wireless production robots and people will be able to work together smoothly there in the sense of the ‘smart factory’ thanks to fast wireless communication.”
Innumerable technological approaches
Particularly interesting, according to Bergmann, are the performance and reliability aspects of 5G, as it is a licensed frequency spectrum for the user. “These are interesting, for example, in indoor logistics when integrating driverless transport systems. The operator is thus better supported than was previously possible with WLAN. Entire AGV fleets can be coordinated in real time and the control and route data can be managed in an edge cloud of the company,” says the expert.
Further possible applications include robotics, collaboration between humans and machines, and imaging processes for environment recognition.
Numerous new scenarios
Industry 4.0 approaches are also noticeably boosted by 5G technology. This optimises the step from classic to fully automated systems because Industry 4.0 is primarily based on data technology processes, and it is precisely these that are supported by 5G. All systems and products in the field of automation, process transparency, pay per use, predictive maintenance or consulting will be further advanced by 5G.
New visions, especially those based on machine learning, for which this data transfer boost is targeted, will soon be implemented by STILL in real existing technology. To this end, the company is involved in numerous international research projects, such as the ARIBIC project. The aim is to make better use of the data that automated guided vehicles (AGVs) collect via their sensors and cameras during their journeys through the warehouse. For example, digital twins of the environment are created that process relevant information in real time.
“These processes generate enormous amounts of data that must be transmitted at a very high speed. Without our new 5G data network, some approaches are not even possible. The previous technologies are usually quite susceptible to interference, which makes our work more difficult,” says Bergmann.
New CampusOS flagship project
Only a few weeks ago, at the beginning of 2022, the CampusOS lighthouse project was launched, which will be funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology with €18.1m over the next three years. Its goal is to build a modular ecosystem for open 5G campus networks based on open radio technologies and interoperable network components. It is intended to help strengthen the digital sovereignty of German companies.
To this end, various scenarios of regular operation at industrial project partners are being evaluated. STILL is, of course, one of the participants. The technology company is testing and evaluating the low-latency and resilient control of vehicles and the transmission of videos at very high data rates.
Bergmann: “This will be the first time our new 5G network is put to the test and will be benchmarked against other solutions. I am quite sure, however, that our system will pass this test with flying colours. Through these activities, STILL will also expand its expertise to advise its customers in this field of technology.”