German carmaker Audi has committed to a new partnership with networking and mobile hardware supplier Ericsson, which will see it run field tests of prototype 5G mobile networking technology at its Audi Production Lab in the town of Gaimersheim, near its Bavarian headquarters.
The two firms have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) agreeing on a range of activities that will assess the potential of 5G technology as a future-proof means of communicating in a production environment – that is to say, on the Audi factory floor itself.
“The fully networked factory will have a significant impact on the production of the future. A powerful network architecture that can respond in real time is of decisive importance for us,” said Audi CIO Frank Loydl.
“As part of the project with our partner Ericsson, we are testing the opportunities offered by 5G technology for industrial applications in the smart factory.”
Audi and Ericsson believe that many potential characteristics of the emerging 5G standard – notably its ability to run faster, low-latency, high-capacity, highly secure mobile networks – lend themselves to complex, automated production environments such as a car factory.
In Germany, the trend towards digitisation of industrial production is known as Industry 4.0, and it is a key government initiative spearheaded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI) under chancellor Merkel.
The first phase of the collaboration will see Audi and Ericsson working together on a latency-critical application using wireless production robots equipped with a gluing application for bodywork construction.
Eventually, the Audi lab – which, in recent years, has explored big data in supply chain logistics and augmented reality in engine assembly, among other things – will be equipped with a 5G-enabled, simulated production environment that mirrors Audi’s real-life production line in nearby Ingolstadt.
It will use Ericsson’s proof-of-concept network, an open trail facility, to enable early stage private 5G deployments. This network is designed to integrate alternative or complementary technologies, including Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity.
Ericsson group CTO Erik Ekudden added: “Ericsson is already running 5G industry programs all over the world to help manufacturers boost productivity and create new business opportunities. This project is a great opportunity to see what is possible when we bring 5G into an automobile production environment to truly enable smart wireless manufacturing.”