A world where machines, devices and systems truly communicate with each other seamlessly and at lightning speed – that’s what the next generation of industrial 5G promises us. It’s more than just a buzzword, because it’s the technological foundation that will drive the next wave of industrial digitalization. In this podcast episode, Daniel Mai, Director of Industrial Wireless Communication from Siemens AG, shows us which specific applications can be revolutionized by this. We dive into the multifaceted world of industrial wireless communication!
Episode 112 at a glance (and click):
- [11:28] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
- [24:30] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
- [31:43] Transferability, scaling and next steps – Here’s how you can use this use case
Podcast episode summary
This podcast episode is a stimulating dialogue that sheds light on current trends and developments in industrial wireless communications.
In this interview, 5G expert Daniel Mai explains the difference between public and private networks and how 5G technology is revolutionizing this area.
Among other things, the benefits of private networks are addressed, where companies have full control and responsibility over their infrastructure. This not only provides flexibility in terms of network coverage, but also security benefits as the data does not leave the company premises. Another advantage cited is independence from third-party vendors, which leads to higher availability and faster problem resolution.
Siemens presents exciting use cases in this podcast episode, e.g. driverless transport systems, mobile robots with specific tasks, smart tools and augmented reality as well as EDGE applications such as camera streaming.
My guest today is none other than Daniel Mai, who holds the reins in the industrial wireless communications department at Siemens AG. Imagine a world where machines, devices and systems truly communicate with each other seamlessly and at lightning speed. This is exactly what the next generation of industrial 5G promises us. It’s more than just a buzzword because it’s truly the technological foundation that will drive the next wave of industrial digitalization. Wondering what specific applications this could revolutionize? Then stay tuned, because Daniel is about to share with us what he calls his “killer use cases”, made possible by this impressive network. Let’s go, have fun with this episode.
Hi Daniel, great to have you here today and welcome to the IoT Use Case Podcast. How are you today and where are you right now? Where are you at the moment?
Hi Madeleine, thanks for the invitation. I am working from home today. It’s been a pretty hectic week, I must say, but I’m at home to talk with you.
Very nice, I am honored. Now Siemens is very big, what other location are you in?
We are normally located at the Moorenbrunn site in Nuremberg, where automation components are usually managed.
Okay, very nice. You are, one could say, almost an old hand in the communications business. When did you actually start? What is your background?
Gladly. Yes, when I look at my curriculum vitae, I think I’m really becoming one of the old hands. I started at Siemens in 2007, doing technical consulting there. I’ve advised on all the communication technologies we have. At that time, it was also still somewhat in its early days in terms of technology. That’s also where we started with the topic of communication. I then became a salesman, advised customers for many years, planned products into solutions and then actually had the honor before the pandemic to go abroad for Siemens for a few years to fly our flag in Australia, which was of course a super-exciting experience.
Yes, I can imagine. Perhaps we can talk a bit more about your international activities later. Before we dive into the main topic, I wanted to begin by providing some context on public networks and private networks. There are public and private networks. I think that also depends on the accessibility or control that I want to have over this network. We are familiar with public networks from the private environment. Here, the networks are essentially provided by telecommunications companies with the appropriate coverage. Then there are private networks for a specific location or for a specific organization. Is that right for now?
Yes, you’re right. Mobile networks have been around for many years. It started in the 90s with GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G. This has been developed over the years. Not much has changed. You still have poor reception in Germany, but the data, if you had the reception, was always transmitted faster. I think mobile data usage is ubiquitous with our smartphones. However, it is noticeable that mobile technology is very consumer-oriented. The focus is mainly on us consumers and we consume a lot of data mainly through our smartphones. Industrial use cases have always been a bit behind in this regard. Of course, remote maintenance was carried out for many years, but always via public networks, i.e. via Telekom or Vodafone and all the mobile providers in the world. However, it was noticed that the technology was not quite suitable for industrial applications.
Because of technological requirements that simply weren’t given there, right?
Yes, that’s right. The 5G standard was then developed and industrial applications were clearly taken into account. It is also actually the first wireless standard that really addresses industrial use cases and not just kind of as a waste product or a side effect. This, of course, makes things very interesting for us. There are certain features and functions that are very important for the industry, such as latencies, assured bandwidths and the like. One of the key elements introduced with 5G was that several countries saw the potential of 5G and allocated specific frequencies for industrial applications. I’m no longer forced to establish my connections through a mobile network provider; instead, I can set up a private network.
We just had a customer event, where the company AGILOX was present, which is a manufacturer of driverless transport systems. They have their equipment somewhere in logistics, for example, or in production. If they network them, they probably need real-time requirements, otherwise in the worst case there’s an accident or something happens where I have to react. That would be a case for a private network, where a business needs to integrate these devices into an infrastructure because it wouldn’t be possible through the public network, right?
Exactly, because when we talk about automation, it’s not just the standard TCP/IP communication that we know through the regular internet. In the industrial environment, there is a zoo of historically grown protocols and a standard fieldbus protocol is a mix of various technologies, including PROFINET. Profinet does have real-time requirements and is also a Layer 2 protocol. That means I can’t transmit that natively over the Internet at all. I have to tunnel that accordingly to be able to transmit that at all. Therefore, I need an infrastructure that can meet these requirements. This is not possible in this form via a conventional mobile network.
Very briefly, before we dive into the practice, once again to you. I mean, Siemens is a very, very big company. You have a wide variety of business units and are experts in very different areas. You are the Director of Industrial Wireless Communication, can you tell us about the specific focus of your business unit and the customers you work with here?
We have a saying here, “If Siemens knew, what Siemens already knows.” Now, I know a lot about the industrial communications environment through my history, but what makes our field special is that we’ve been involved in communications for many years. We’ve been involved in industrial WLAN since 2004. WLAN, or Wi-Fi, is a technology developed for consumers. Back then, we already thought that it could be very practical for industrial applications like AGVs or cranes because you can’t always run a cable everywhere. At that time, we made WLAN technology suitable for industrial applications by adding special features and extensions to establish this robustness and determinism. That’s when this Journey began. In the past, WLAN often had the reputation of not working just when you needed it most. However, with these extensions, we have shown that it can be extremely robust and reliable when carefully planned and implemented, and when there are no or few sources of interference on site. This is also underlined by the fact that many German car manufacturers are successfully using our WLAN in their production. Of course, if something goes wrong here, certain key figures are at stake. For example, if car production is only interrupted for 10 minutes, it can quickly result in 5 or even 8 fewer cars being produced.
That’s when mobile or wireless communications started and evolved over time. For a few years now, industrial 5G has definitely been on the radar because it’s a technology designed to offer industrial use cases natively. Introducing this to the industry now is clearly our focus. Of course, this is a mammoth task, because the industry is definitely slower in adapting technologies, but in this case the response is very high. Especially the manufacturing industry, process industry, power generators and distribution, as well as renewable energy sources like wind parks, but also all kinds of railways and public transportation, as well as oil and gas.
What interests me, of course, are always the use cases. Now I have just mentioned driverless transport systems. Can you share a few use cases that are going into application now with 5G?
So I think there are a few that are quite obvious, especially when something is moving and no cable can be connected. The driverless transport systems are quite classic, cranes, mobile robots, smart tools that are now being used that no longer have a cable attached to them or corresponding edge applications, camera streaming, for example.
[11:28] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
It’s always the case now that there is a business case behind every technology somewhere in the best case scenario. Can we stick with this example of driverless transport systems, what is the business case for your customers now?
We are often asked: what is the “killer use case” that justifies the investment in 5G? There is currently no individual one. In intralogistics, this topic is already very dominant, because a lot is happening there. We have these driverless transport systems, these pick-and-place devices that are always mobile. Basically, it’s about controlling these end devices and machines deterministically and reliably. For example, if Amazon is unable to load and pack goods, they incur immediate financial losses. These hard real-time requirements are the dominant driver and often the business case that justifies the investment.
Are there any other things that come into it? I have certain speeds and latencies that come with 5G. Are there also specific risks if I don’t do it with this standard? Do you have any more insights into these possible business cases?
So, what we are doing today with 5G, we have already been doing for many years with WLAN. The key added value that 5G brings today is that we can run different applications simultaneously on the same infrastructure. One example is a steel mill that has previously tested an AGV with our WLAN. They are now also planning to integrate their external warehouse, then the crane will be added, and there are other logistics applications that have each used their own WLAN, causing interference. The specific customer now expects 5G to require only one infrastructure to run the various trades, assets and applications on a single infrastructure. This leads to cost savings in the end, as they don’t have to set up 4, 5 or 6 WLANs, often not even having enough channels to cover everything. With 5G, they will be able to operate all of this on one infrastructure in the future.
Okay, so that means that if I didn’t do that, I would have to pull up individual WLANs, which would not be scalable at all and would not deliver the performance that is needed for these different cases?
That’s right. Now, due to the geopolitical situation, energy prices have risen sharply, and therefore it was necessary to somehow quickly take measures to be able to save energy. Unfortunately, as of today, many customers lack transparency. Where am I currently using my energy and where do I have potential for savings? Installing energy meters at various points in the factory now involves enormous effort. Just running a cable costs time and money. I have to create appropriate infrastructure, I might have to run my cables through a firestop. This is high effort, high investment. Many customers have actually now also discovered the topic of 5G in order to quickly establish connectivity in a plant. That is, I now have a sensor somewhere here that records my energy. I have 5G in the plant and can collect data from the measuring devices quickly and centrally and get transparency from which appropriate measures can be derived. There is then already a relatively clear business case, energy transparency, in order to be able to make defined decisions.
What is the challenge or the pain behind this topic, that you can’t do the cabling everywhere because of different cases? What is it all about?
Companies also often encounter structural challenges where the effort required and the associated difficulties are simply too great. If, on the other hand, I have a universal communications infrastructure in place, the barrier to adding new elements becomes much lower. Contrast that with when I’m faced with the task of running miles of cable, waiting for a maintenance window, and putting in 4-5 man-weeks of labor. With the ability to, for example, set up an IoT device at location XY, insert a SIM card and establish connectivity immediately, this effort is significantly reduced. This is a surprising but extremely positive effect that the integration of energy, data transparency and connectivity has achieved for us.
We’ve just touched on it, it’s certain latencies and you end up talking about data as well. In the end, 5G is the medium or the transport route over which the data is sent. Are there nevertheless certain data rates that have to be given there for such use cases? Can you classify what’s being transmitted there and what real-time data we’re talking about?
Yes, so classic automation doesn’t need a lot of data. When I look at a Profinet connection, kilobits or a few megabits are required. What determines the data rate in the industry is more about determinism and this continuous flood of messages. So many small telegrams compared to “data bursts”. Now, when I turn on my tablet and stream something, it basically downloads half the movie in advance and then there is little to do on the air interface for now. For industry, it tends to be constantly little data, but with a short latency. The classic Profinet device has a default setting of 2 milliseconds cycle time. This is extremely challenging for a wireless technology and also often not even necessary for an application. Via wireless we are talking about cycle times 32, 64 and 128 milliseconds and that is difficult for wireless. 5G offers the technological basis to penetrate this area and make this possible in a reliable and durable manner.
These are precisely the cases, such as driverless transport systems and so on, that require such data rates.
Right. Where data rates are required, of course, are augmented reality or video glasses. In some cases, a great deal of upstream capacity is required there. That’s sometimes 20, 30, 40 megabits per end device. Now when I do remote operations somewhere, there are 4-5 HD cameras installed, 2-3 to the front, 2-3 to the back. Then I get data rates of 40, 50, 60 megabits, and that was also rather difficult with the previous mobile communications technology. That’s where you also see an added value with 5G, that you can expand this upload capacity accordingly. 5G intends to vary the upload and download capacity accordingly in that regard. Usually there are three download time slots and one upload time slot. With 5G, you can also adjust that and say, I’m doing this one-to-one. That means I have just as much upstream capacity as downstream capacity. I can even reverse that if I have a very data-heavy application that I have more upstream capacity than downstream capacity. In principle, this is the very big difference to the mobile networks, because the mobile network is clearly intended for us consumers. That’s where we always need a lot of downstream capacity, because we always want to watch and stream our data on mobile. We generate relatively little data in relation.
Is this now actually exciting for use cases that are applied in combination? As a company, I usually have different cases that I have to run in parallel. Is it now also the case that you have to bring these very different data rates together properly? Is that an issue as well?
That’s one of the challenges, you’re right. I think what we need in the industry is not the highest data rates, but reliable data rates. Sure, I have to provide a certain infrastructure and capacity, which of course also depends heavily on the spectrum. Therefore, this is a very nice situation in the countries where there are private frequencies, where I can reach a lot via the 100 MHz after all. But the networks we need are not designed for the highest data rates, but for a combination of reasonable data rates and low latencies, so that camera applications and Profinet applications can run in parallel on the infrastructure.
Are there specific technology requirements that customers expect and that you say your solution must meet? Do you have areas where you notice that the requirements always vary from case to case?
Not so dominant, but what you have to keep in mind is that 5G is a relatively complex technology, mobile technology in general, which of course has to be made usable for the industry. That is, it must be usable by automation operators without having a lot of additional training. The focus is clearly on the application itself, so it’s not about 5G or the infrastructure, it’s just a means to an end, a transport medium that we use to realize these use cases. Therefore, the requirements in industry are different and therefore the industrial networks must also function differently. Ideally, a steel plant like this produces 300 days a year, and I can’t reboot it every six weeks because I’m installing firmware updates or security patches. These are boundary conditions where industrial networks operate completely differently than IT networks, for example.
Are there any requirements on the hardware side that play into this as well? In the end, I also have to record the data somewhere. Is that still an issue with you guys, too?
Yes, so what I mean is that in the areas where production takes place, it’s usually not air-conditioned, unfortunately. That is, we have requirements for the temperature range. In a steel mill it often gets very warm, in a wind farm it is often very cold, depending on where the wind farm is located. The devices we connect also have an enormously long life. How long have we had our office laptop or a smartphone? Three to five years, after which the equipment is usually replaced. A melting furnace or AGV, when purchased, typically has a life of 7-15 years. That’s why the hardware and the solution around it must also meet these lifespans. This is not very easy, because in IT the world is definitely fast-moving. Therefore, hardware suitability and this “Made-for-Industry” aspect are indeed important factors for our customers.
Yes, I was just about to say that this is also the guiding slogan that you follow, where you simply have to have a great deal of OT expertise in order to be able to make such interpretations on the hardware side.
[24:30] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
Can we briefly summarize the advantages of private networks? We’ve just touched on a wide variety of points, can you very briefly summarize again what exactly the advantages of using private networks are?
Private network means that I own or am responsible for the infrastructure. This is now new with mobile technology. Previously, this was always in the hands of the mobile network providers and was rather designed for national networks. In the past, there were always these frequency auctions where many billions were paid to roll out 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G on a national level. With a private network, I have that under my own responsibility. I can choose which solution I use. I can choose the provider of this solution. I can set up my coverage exactly where I need it, in a warehouse, in the basement of my warehouse, and I’m not dependent on the network and bandwidth of the provider.
” Coverage” now refers to how far the range of the individual points is, which the devices then connect to?
Exactly. Like at home, I can also determine where my access point is so that I have adequate WLAN reception. That’s actually the key for industrial applications of mobile technologies, that I know exactly where I need it and can also make sure it’s on site where I need it. I think that is the main key. Suppose my factory is located in a soccer stadium. My network is stable from Monday to Friday. On Saturday, my favorite club is playing. All of a sudden, I have tens of thousands of mobile phones logged into the mobile network here next to me. Then the provider, according to their business mission, will ensure that everyone has good mobile reception, and my factory might end up with the short end of the stick. This is not desired and therefore private networks in connection with their own spectrum is actually the ideal case for the industry.
There’s certainly a security aspect to it as well. You don’t want everybody to be able to somehow retrieve that data or maybe put it in context. Security is probably a big issue there, too.
Exactly, so the charm of private solutions are just that I have the ability to have that on-prem. That means everything is in my care on campus. The data does not leave my responsibility unnecessarily for the time being and there I can make sure that my trade secrets stay with me. No one can see from the outside how much equipment I actually have in use and what exactly I’m doing there. I am also not dependent on anyone. A mobile network is a critical infrastructure and also has a certain availability, but if things go wrong, my production would stop if the network was public. That way I have control over all of this. I can take care of it myself with my staff to get it back in order quickly, and I can make sure my production is up and running without depending on a third party. Of course, they also offer SLR’s, but they all cost money. So it’s extremely practical for us, and something we’ve been promoting for many years, to give automation engineers the ability to manage the infrastructure themselves
Now we have a lot of listeners who are in the ” shopfloor” value stream, a lot of use cases that are being rolled out there. You mentioned TCP/IP at the beginning of this episode. Now I’m not a technical expert, but I think TCP is called Transmission Control Protocol and is responsible for splitting up the data into smaller packets that can then be transmitted over the Internet. IP stands for Internet Protocol, which is used for data transmission. Can you tell us a little more about that, especially in the context of the buzzwords you mentioned at the beginning? What hardware is particularly important on the shopfloor, and how does this relate to the use cases?
Gladly, yes. So you just brought it up, TCP/IP is the protocol that is predominantly used on the Internet to transfer user data from the users, us. This has been in use for decades, but unfortunately it is not enough in several places to realize industrial applications. There are various fieldbus protocols. This is standardized by the PROFIBUS user organization, the Profinet. This is a hodgepodge of different protocols, including Profinet IO. It’s this highly cyclical communication that only happens on a Layer 2 basis.
These are virtually the data rates, to enable this you need the Profinet IO?
Yes, that’s right. The PLC polls practically each of its IO devices cyclically via Profinet IO and expects the response in a certain time. The controller/PLC processes this data to then decide based on the control task: Motor on, motor off, light barrier interrupted, light barrier there, analog value, I have to regulate or control a motor and the like. This is done via this cyclical communication. This cannot be transmitted natively over the Internet. That means I have to expand tunneling and technology accordingly. We now use a protocol extension in our systems called VXLAN. This is a kind of communication tunnel that enables Layer 2 communication, i.e. Profinet IO, over a Layer 3 infrastructure such as currently 5G.
Very good. Simply put, it means you have some hardware that enables this coverage indoors. I could imagine them hanging from the ceiling somewhere in the hall. This data is then passed on via this Profinet IO, as you have just described, in order to then implement the individual use cases.
Yes, exactly, so a typical on-prem solution for us would include the core and the RAM, which are two industrial PCs, and from there it goes via an optical fiber to the radio units, which are basically then suspended from the ceiling in the hall. Then there is a switch and a firewall attached to it and the UI’s, the end devices, send their data via the RAM to the core, the core to the switch or router and then to the SCADA system or the PLC.
[31:43] Transferability, scaling and next steps – Here’s how you can use this use case
Product development status – the topic is on everyone’s lips. Industrial 5G is a big topic for many. Where do you stand in product development and what is still to come?
We have been pitching the technology for many years. As mentioned at the beginning, the response is very great. The interest is there. We have had our industrial 5G router for two years. That’s a router that has a 5G chip in it that’s pretty robust, appropriately certified to be used on AGVs, on trains, and in certain industries. Be it temperature range, vibrations, and voltages that can be connected. Now we are close to the market launch for industrial 5G infrastructure. This is essentially the counterpart in the industrial hall that you install to enable 5G coverage. We have now spent the last two years gathering a lot of experience with our pilot customers and incorporating it into our product development. In principle, the infrastructure is now as good as available.
Very nice. Yes, that was a nice closing. You’ve also nicely closed the loop back to the beginning regarding the SIM card. Is it possible to see use cases on site with you? Where do I need to go?
With pleasure. So we’ll be showing our 5G solution at the SPS show in Nuremberg. But we also inaugurated our Industrial Connectivity Lab in Erlangen a few weeks ago. We’re quite proud of being able to demonstrate this, where we can also test this ecosystem. I’m thinking about building a component or building a machine that will have a 5G interface. You are welcome to bring them to us to have them tested. You can also enjoy a factory tour in Karlsruhe, where a mobile application is shown running over 5G.
At this point, I would like to invite you, if you are coming from Erlangen or Karlsruhe or anywhere else, to come by and let us take a look at it on site. Of course, I’m also interested in what your use cases are. Are you already using this, are you already implementing this, or what are you going to do with it? Let me know, post your comments on LinkedIn. Daniel, first of all, thank you very much for being with us today and for sharing so many exciting insights. Many thanks also for the practical relevance. I would be delighted to speak with you again in about a year and provide another update. From today first of all many thanks from my side. It was easy to understand. With that, I would turn the last word over to you for today.
Madeleine, thank you so much for the invitation. Thank you for the opportunity to report on our expertise here. Very happy to visit again and I hope you will of course visit us at the show.
Absolutely. Nuremberg, I’m there. Let’s meet, I’m looking forward to it. So take care and have a nice rest of the week. Bye!
Thanks you too, bye.