Whether Siemens in the Nuremberg automotive showroom and test center, the mechanical engineering company Trumpf or Mercedes Benz in Sindelfingen Factory 56, more and more German companies are now testing specific 5G applications for the smart factory of tomorrow. The Stuttgart Bosch Group is also involved. For example, in their vision of the factory of the future, the Swabians rely on 5G to implement new and more flexible manufacturing concepts. “5G is a standard of superlatives,” says Andreas Müller, head of the “Communication and Network Technology” division within central corporate research at Bosch and chairman of the “5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation” (5G-ACIA).
For many, 5G is now a key factor for the digitalization of production when technical assistance systems are introduced, sensors send a large amount of data and the degree of networking between people, machines and systems continues to increase. “The new mobile communications standard provides a boost for Industry 4.0,” emphasizes Michael Bolle, Bosch managing director and CDO / CTO. But despite all the euphoria, it should not be forgotten that the new mobile radio technology still has a large number of open questions. What about the compatibility of 5G with existing production facilities? Are the electromagnetic waves disturbing here?
This is exactly what Bosch now wants to investigate together with Ericsson in the form of compatibility tests at its Reutlingen semiconductor plant. “Semiconductor production is extremely complex and sensitive. Wafers run through over 1000 tests before the microscopic elements are used in various products, for example in airbags, smartphones or e-bikes. Electromagnetic waves can be sources of interference during production. We test how 5G affects production, “explains Bosch researcher Müller. For Bosch, semiconductors are among the key technologies that the company needs for IoT or its numerous control units for the automotive sector.
In addition to compatibility tests, sewer measurements are also planned. They should provide information on how optimal network coverage can be guaranteed, i.e. where and how closely, for example, transmitting antennas have to be placed in a plant. Based on these results, Bosch plans to set up a 5G test network in Reutlingen by autumn and implement the first 5G applications. The engineers should check how machines and systems can be networked more efficiently and better via 5G instead of WLAN or cabling. Areas of application for this are, for example, autonomous transport systems that are controlled via a local cloud or remote access to machines and communication between industrial systems.
The tests in Reutlingen take place as part of the EU research project 5G-SMART, which is endowed with over 10 million euros. The aim of the project, which is coordinated by Ericsson and ABB, is to test and evaluate the potential of the new communication standard in real production environments. Beyond Reutlingen, 5G applications for production are being tested at the Ericsson site in Kista, Sweden, and at the 5G Industry Campus Europe of the Fraunhofer IPT in Aachen.
Bosch itself wants to use the knowledge gained in Reutlingen for the future planning of 5G networks – for example in the new semiconductor plant in Dresden, the second wafer fab in Germany after Reutlingen. “We are building the world’s first 5G-capable semiconductor factory from Bosch in Dresden. The factory will be 5G-ready from day one,” says Bolle. According to the company, the company is investing around one billion euros in the new wafer fab – this is the largest single investment in the company’s history. Production is scheduled to start in Dresden at the end of 2021. Bosch sees microelectronics as a trailblazer for Industry 4.0 – on different levels. On the one hand, Industry 4.0 is inconceivable without intelligent sensors, and on the other hand, semiconductor manufacturing itself is one of the pioneers of networked production. It is almost fully automated.
This is why artificial intelligence and 5G will play a special role in the production of the chips in the future plant: the highly automated production systems analyze their process data themselves in order to optimize their processes. This is intended to increase the quality of the chips while reducing production costs. In addition, the planning and process engineers could access this production data at any time in order to accelerate the development of new semiconductor products or to minimize tolerances in production at an early stage.