19. July 2021

Interview with Christian Maasem I Center Director I Center Connected Industry  about the unique 5G test environment for Automated Guided Vehicles driverless transport vehicles at the Smart Logistics Cluster on RWTH Aachen Campus

The Center Connected Industry at the Smart Logistics Cluster utilizes the unique test environment in Aachen alongside renowned partners from industry and research for new logistics applications. 5G is embedded here into a real and functional production landscape.
Is 5G still just theory, possibly with a beta testing status – or have the experts in Aachen advanced further? Christian Maasem could name various fields of application, which, as he carefully words it “definitely make sense, but just haven’t reached their potential as yet”.
Transport robots is a keyword – to be exact: Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV). In addition to the automotive industry and logistics, they are being introduced in a variety of sectors. 5G offers enormous improvements in terms of safety. AGVs are equipped with laser scanners, which check their environment for possible objects in the direction of travel. The robots are interlinked with other sensor elements that allow real-time evaluations of whether a collision hazard exists. Once an AGV detects an object at a short distance, the vehicle responds autonomously with braking.
SAM碰PT 5G makes robots faster and safer

Fraunhofer IPT

Personnel safety plays an important role in warehouse logistics with poorly visible intersections and high storage racks. Intensive testing is being carried out in Aachen on this topic to determine which sensor technology is needed so that it is actually possible to look “around the corner”. A combination of safety infrastructure sensor technology, safe data transmission via 5G and data fusion may be the answer. Christian Maasem: “We always keep an eye on whether we can use a solution in this area of application for other purposes as well that will contribute to process optimization.” The aim is to prevent critical situations while at the same time increasing the efficiency of the transport process.

What will get better with 5G? Maasem: “5G allows the capture of enormous amounts of sensor data from transport vehicles and infrastructure in real-time, which is then evaluated close-by – using so-called Edge Computing. Previously, transport vehicles in production and logistics often had to travel at severely limited max. speeds to avoid collisions. With 5G, vehicles can operate with significantly more efficiency and smarter at the same or a higher level of safety.” 5G technology makes real-time a reality.

It can assess the data directly on site and transmit the result to ensure a control or brake command is issued without any damages occurring. Other technologies, says Maasem, are not reliable enough.
According to Christian Maasem, the Center Connected Industry relies – of course – on the “traditional form of cooperation”. It has found just that in so-called consortial projects, for example with the companies Ericsson and SICK, a global leader in the manufacture of smart sensors for factory, logistics and process automation. Here, we combine the might of various players with their individual competences and modern methods to develop ideal solutions faster.” The Center Connected Industry is currently working on a solution for a safety-critical use case in the AGV Safe Crossing consortial project with Ericsson, KION and SICK.
Infrastruktursensor 5G makes robots faster and safer

CCI

Preventing critical situations, improving process efficiency and with it productivity: This performance increase, however, does not yet mean a guaranteed product improvement. Instead, it initially only means a more cost-efficient production. Christian Maasem: “Let’s say I increase the max. speed of the vehicles. That immediately means I will need less vehicles.”
Wireless communication will become much more commonplace in the future. It is needed for the data exchange between the driving AGV and the integrated sensor technology for the monitoring of intersections. Autonomous systems will therefore be increasingly tasked with simple transport trips. Christian Maasem: “Employees will be able to focus on other tasks that require more flexibility. In our view, people will not disappear from the workplace, just because there will be more automation.” How about other universities, other countries – where do they stand in terms of 5G? Christian Maasem: “There is an amount of competition and rivalry, but surprisingly only in individual areas. We are more interested in a perfect complete system with all information technologies.”
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Aachen has a Demonstration Factory, where the broad spectrum of 5G application options is on display. “For us, the Demonstration Factory is often the first point of call for a solution”, says Maasem. “Here we have a perfect production environment, over which we have the greatest possible influence and where we can integrate new technologies, while still having real workflow processes in place. We can put together all the building blocks we need there – not just 5G – but also sensor and application systems. Here in Aachen, we have a landscape of sensor systems and communication technologies with a depth and connectivity that is likely unique anywhere in the world. And that often even with the latest versions before they get to market.”
DemonstrationsfabrikļDFA 5G makes robots faster and safer

DFA

Antenne-Innenbereiche_EricssonёCCI 5G makes robots faster and safer

CCI

5G makes robots faster and safer
SoftwareёDeutsche-Telekom_T-Systems 5G makes robots faster and safer

Deutsche Telekom/T-Systems

The Demonstration Factory is – except during the height of Corona – also open to small businesses. “Basically, anyone can come to have a look and take a tour with us”, offers Christian Maasem. The center is currently developing services for just that purpose, often involving FIR (Institute for Industrial Management), which supports the center e.g. with the development of relevant business models. “Everyone works closely together there to make the most of the competences from industry and research. That is the campus principle.”

Connectivity is an important focus of the work currently being done at the Center and 5G is a key technology in that respect. “5G is so universal and powerful that I can cover almost everything with it”, describes Christian Maasem the benefit of 5G. It relates to the sensors, the automated systems, the software solutions. “Of course, we won’t be focusing solely on that, but 5G is becoming increasingly more frequently the entry point for companies addressing the topic of digitization.”

There are 17 people working on 5G at the center right now, and it additionally gets temporary research personnel support from various RWTH institutes. Christian Maasem: “The mix is really exciting: We get experts from the areas of physics, IT, engineering, economics and even colleagues from social sciences. It really is a colorful mix.” Maasem himself is a physicist and economist. There is one more thing he feels is special in Aachen: The differentiation between the research and industry network. The 5G-Industry Campus Europe project has created a network that is mainly used for research projects, also by the center. It is already now working on and testing the next networks – after 5G. “There are so many options to look at and comparisons to be made, so that we can find the right combination of technologies to suit individual use cases”, explains Maasem.

Maasem about the test-beds at the Demonstration Factory and on the Logistics Campus Eschweiler: “We can replicate concrete use cases of companies and see, what the various technical solutions and benefits look like. This will facilitate a quick and easy data-based decision-making process for the digital transformation in industry.”

You want to know more about “5G in practical use”?

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