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March 12, 2019, was an important day for industry. “5G has great potential, especially in the industrial sector. We want to make frequencies available that will allow local networks to be set up in accordance with the needs of companies. This is an essential step on the way to Industrie 4.0,” announced Jochen Homann, President of the Federal Network Agency in Bonn. For months, industry associations had been campaigning for campus networks.

In Schwabmünchen, near Augsburg, many Osram employees probably missed this announcement. March 12 was a normal working day at the Osram factory. “Schwabmünchen is a comparatively small plant with 400 employees, but is a high-tech location,” explains Dr. Frank Sroka. He is responsible for Osram’s Industrie 4.0 program, which also embraces the new communication standard. And the news of March 12 was simply not relevant – because he and his colleagues are already working with 5G.

5G fosters new processes

The Osram plant boasts one of the first campus networks in Germany and, on account of its size, is a role model for SMEs. The Osram employees set up the new network in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom. Base stations with indoor antennas have been installed, and the driverless transport systems have been equipped with SIM cards. “We also worked with external partners to develop new software for the machines and transport systems,” Sroka explains. At the moment, 5G is restricted to processes in which people can quickly intervene to solve problems – in the transport of goods, for example. Those responsible speak of ‘uncritical areas’. Work is under way to finalize service-level agreements and response times with service providers.

“We need this element of security when 5G is rolled out across the plant and we want to concentrate on our core business,” Sroka concludes. The new wireless standard not only promises faster data ex-change.

5G will form the IT backbone at Osram.

According to Sroka and his team, the digitalization of the Osram plants will be based on a step-by-step model: visualization of existing processes; analysis of data; and, as the final step, actual process optimization. “We can achieve this thanks to new technical possibilities,” reports Sroka, referring to two practical examples. In recent months shop-floor employees have been equipped with mobile phones and the machines send messages to these devices. The employees then decide how they want to handle the assignments: accept, forward or escalate? “In the past, colleagues were permanently assigned to the machines. Our autonomous telephone exchange creates a greater service orientation and generates added economic value,” Sroka says proudly.

Service providers will be granted access

The Osram engineers have gone a step further with regard to autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) – by deploying SIM cards. “Thanks to 5G, we can centrally manage the control and navigation of the AGVs. Fleet computing will provide us with more data, which can be analyzed using AI methods,” says Sroka, looking ahead to the near future. This will open up new possibilities – e.g., data mapping and the implementation of new delivery concepts along the entire supply chain. What’s more, Osram can integrate various AGV providers via the central control system and thus become vendor-independent. In addition, the AGVs will be more cost-effective because the intelligence of the control system is centrally located at the plants.

Will programmable logic controls (PLC) ultimately be located in the cloud? “We’re talking about latency times. One millisecond is insufficient.” But the Osram team sees scope for other applications. “Head-mounted displays are an issue for us because we now have higher data volumes available. The new wireless standard will also benefit our test rigs. We are currently developing image processing software that will be installed in the machines. In the future, data evaluation will be performed centrally via cloud computing, thus allowing us to carry out coherent analyses – cross-plant machine learning, in other words.”

Will external machine maintenance providers have access to the 5G network? “Yes, Osram has a private slice for sensitive data and a public slice. That was very important to us right from the start,” Sroka confirms.