Industrial applications of 5G

5G technologies are a key enabler for Industry 4.0: a paradigm that relies on fully interconnected industrial scenarios and that aims at improving the efficiency, quality and performance of the industrial processes. In this sense, 5G technologies, such as Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networks (SDN), provide the required flexibility to dynamically deploy and interconnect virtual services. In addition, these technologies reduce and simplify the design, test and deployment cycles of services that demand computing, storage and network resources, thus optimizing the usage of hardware resources.

CFAA houses one of the nodes that make up the Smart Networks for Industry (SN4I) experimental facility, which is an NFV- and SDN-aware communication network that interconnects two locations, Bilbao and Leioa, of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), with the CFAA. As a result, SN4I provides sliced network, computing, and storage resources for the deployment of isolated concurrent services and experimentation. This deployment also enables the integration of NFV technologies with the industrial Internet protocols and the coexistence with other industrial networks like Time Sensitive Networks (TSN). Therefore, SN4I complements traditional research and activity in the CFAA field of manufacturing, with state-of-the-art technologies like high bandwidth, low delay, on-demand service creation, SDN-based security, etc.

The SN4I infrastructure has a 10 Gbps (40 Gbps capable) backbone supported by OpenFlow switches under the control of the DynPaC service (SDN-based Bandwidth on Demand Service). The three sites (around 15 km between each of them) are linked through a layer-2 network that uses VLAN encapsulation in order to isolate different services from each other. In rough numbers, the whole setup includes around a dozen switches and more than 20 servers which account for more than 1TB of RAM and 230 cores. The equipment also includes several high-performance P4-enabled 100 Gbps switches that enable the offloading of network functions to the data plane for latency-critical services, as well as equipment to stress, measure (bandwidth, delay, BER, setup time and TCP throughput), and exercise the network at speeds up to 100 Gbps.

The whole SN4I architecture is orchestrated by Open Source MANO (OSM), an NFV based Management and Orchestration platform. In each location, an OpenStack node has been deployed as a Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIM), which consists of several physical servers. One of them acts as the controller with the corresponding controller services, while all of the servers have computing and storage capabilities. The OpenStack nodes are managed by OSM which allows the instantiation of Network Services which deploy in turn Virtual Machines and Virtual Links. Furthermore, each OpenStack node is interconnected by the means of an OpenFlow switch under the control of a local ONOS SDN Controller, which, in cooperation with OSM, manages the connectivity between virtual services in the OpenStack node and in and out of it. Recently, SN4I has been updated to include Kubernetes-based VIMs in order to deploy containerized applications that better align with the low-latency requirements of edge computing and with the microservices paradigm.

As of now, 5G full plant coverage in the CFAA is available in the context of the project 5G-Euskadi. Until now a 5G Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) service over a Non Stand-alone (NSA) architecture is available, and a fully operative 5G Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) service over a Stand-alone (SA) architecture is expected to be available (by the end of this year). This new service will fulfill the low latency and critical data requirements of the Industrial IoT (IIoT) scenario. Additionally, a 5G Non-Public Network (NPN) with experimental gNodeB provides 5G connectivity in specific areas of the CFAA plant. This setup allows the integration of both 5G sensors and 5G routers in the machine tools to provide added value to the manufacturing processes. Another experimental eNodeB provides NB-IoT and LTE-M on-demand coverage for constrained device sensors. In addition, a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) has been integrated into the SN4I architecture, enabling the deployment of several constrained device sensors in the CFAA in order to monitor different environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, or lightness.

Overall, the flexibility offered by SN4I means that the infrastructure resources can be sliced on-demand and allocated to the virtual service that requires them. This flexibility applies to network resources as well, guaranteeing complete isolation between virtual services assigned to different manufacturing processes at both privacy and performance level. These services are significantly enriched thanks to the provision of 5G and LTE coverage to integrate sensors that provide added value to the manufacturing processes, and to achieve low-latency wireless communications between machine tools, the sensors, and the computing infrastructure, which is the basis for the next generation of industrial applications.