5G Steers Forklifts, robots at BMW, Ford factories


As the combination of 5G and autonomous technology seeks to transform transportation and production in many places, early adopters include automakers’ warehouses and production facilities.

In a recent example, BMW Group announced in a June press release that it has partnered with several other organizations in a pilot program in which a factory’s autonomous forklifts are controlled by the computing performed in the cloud and delivered via 5G.

In this research project at a BMW factory in Germany, autonomous forklifts load and unload trucks and manage a block storage facility. Cameras built into forklifts combine with cloud computing using 5G to control vehicles. The coordinates of the vehicle are determined to the nearest millimetre.

“5G, the fifth generation of mobile communications, is more than just a step-by-step improvement to existing standards,” Bavarian Economic Affairs Minister Hubert Aiwanger said in the statement. Release announcing the pilot program. “In addition to significantly higher data rates, it also allows billions of machines to be connected and transmit data in near real time.”

Accelerate robot reaction times

Mobile operators and others have noted the potential of 5G-powered standalone equipment for use in warehouses and production facilities.

Last fall, AT&T and Ford Motor Company announced they were equipping one of the automaker’s assembly plants with a private 5G network using the wireless carrier’s Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) technology. .

Read more: High throughput and low cost at the heart of new 5G business use cases

In the Ford factory, this setup is designed to deliver faster processing times and better connections for phones and tablets used on the production line, help robotics and automated machines make better decisions, and have faster reaction times, and enable faster wireless delivery of vehicle software updates. .

“With this collaboration, we will help Ford unlock the potential of 5G by helping to build the truck of the future,” Rasesh Patel, then director of product and platform at AT&T Business, said in a statement. October press announcing the project at the plant that builds Ford’s all-electric pickup truck.

When describing the recently announced BMW Group pilot program, the German automaker said the combination of 5G and autonomous technology can deliver a number of benefits to supply chain players.

On the one hand, with optimal control of forklifts by calculations performed in the cloud, there will be less downtime for vehicles as well as greater performance and efficiency of the logistics system.

Additionally, with 5G enabling real-time connectivity between machines and equipment, hardware no longer has to be installed in vehicles – it can be in the cloud.

“With this pilot project, BMW Group Plant Landshut is setting a new benchmark for the smart, connected factory,” said site manager Dr. Stefan Kasperowski in the statement. “…Behind the project is the goal of fully connected production, in which autonomous transport systems, logistics robots and mobile devices communicate seamlessly with each other and with the control system.”

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