Bosch investigates private 5G network at wafer fab in Reutlingen

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The industrial conglomerate says it is testing network optimisation and 5G’s suitability for Industry 4.0 with partners including ABB, Ericsson, Orange and T-Systems.

The network at Reutlingen will use the 3.7-3.8GHz band, which was set aside by the German regulator BNetzA for industry.

The deployment is part of 3GPP’s three-year 5G-SMART manufacturing trials, which began mid 2019. It will feed into the development of Releases 17 and 18 of the 5G new radio (NR) standard.

More efficient?

Bosch stated: “Engineers will observe how machines and systems can work with 5G and investigate how much better and more efficient this connection is compared to Wi-Fi or cabling. Fields of application include autonomous transport systems that can be guided via a local cloud, remote access to machinery, and communication between industrial systems.”

Bosch will use the findings to establish a 5G network-proper at the Reutlingen plant by late 2020.

It will also inform network planning at the company’s €1 billion new wafer fab in Dresden (pictured), set to be its first 5G-capable semiconductor plant, scheduled to open in late 2021.

“The facility will be ready for 5G from day one,” the company said. The €1 billion cost for the Dresden site is the largest single investment in the company’s history.

Microelectronics showing the way

Bosch said, “Microelectronics is paving the way for Industry 4.0 on various levels. For one, Industry 4.0 is inconceivable without intelligent sensors; for another, wafer production itself is one of the forerunners of connected manufacturing. It is nearly fully automated and employs artificial intelligence to optimize manufacturing processes in real time.”

Andreas Müller, a researcher at Bosch and Chair of the international 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), commented, “Semiconductor production is extremely complex and sensitive. These microscopic wafers undergo more than 1,000 tests before ending up in a wide array of products, ranging from airbags to smartphones to e-bikes.

“In a factory environment, electromagnetic waves can be a source of interference, so we’re testing the impact 5G has on production.”

5G-SMART projects

“We at Bosch started researching and developing 5G early on, and we are convinced that this new mobile communications standard will give Industry 4.0 a boost,” says Dr Michael Bolle, the Bosch CDO/CTO.

"For this reason, the company is taking an active role in the international 5G-SMART research project, which aims to test, demonstrate, and evaluate the new communications standard in real-life manufacturing environments.

The other 5G-SMART projects are at Ericsson’s plant at Kista, Sweden, and the Fraunhofer IPT’s 5G Industry Campus Europe in Aachen.

Funded by the European Union, the project is scheduled to run for a total of two and a half years and will end in November 2021.

It is testing new business models as well as the feasibility of 5G technology in industrial settings.