Researchers Control an IIoT "Smart Factory" From Korea and Finland — at the Same Time

Communicating via 5G networks, teams in Korea and Finland have controlled factory facilities simultaneously — including via VR.

Researchers at Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) have announced a successful experiment ,which saw an industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) "smart factory" controlled in real-time both locally and remotely — with the remote operators located all the way over in Finland.

"As it became possible to remotely control smart factories even from abroad as well as in Korea," says Il-gyu Kim, head of ETRI's mobile communications research arm, "we now can meet the demand for non-face-to-face activities in the industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemics. Therefore, it is expected to revitalize the stagnant industry."

The remote-control experiment involved controlling the factory's operations through two 5G networks: A test-bed network at Oulu University in Finland and a Korean equivalent dubbed 5G-KOREN. The team claims it represents the world's first attempt to operate a single smart factory from two countries simultaneously.

The local ETRI control center handled operation of the remote manufacturing execution system (MES), real-time facility control and status monitoring via SCADA, control panels, and the like; the Finnish team, meanwhile, remote controlled and monitored mobile manufacturing robots using technologies including narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) sensor networks and virtual reality (VR) interfaces.

The experiment proved entirely successful: The team claims to have shown a round-trip communications delay of less than 0.01 seconds locally and 0.3 seconds to Finland — short enough that fine control of factory facilities is possible, opening up the possibility for otherwise-idle equipment to be used by remote teams without the need for site visits.

The team has not publicly published its results, but has indicated plans to perform additional experimentation along with similar demonstrations using next-generation 6G networks.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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