COVID-19: automation trends in manufacturing - Blue Yonder
Alan Duncan, Senior Director of Industry Strategy (Manufacturing), EMEA, Blue Yonder on current trends relating to COVID-19 and automation.
“COVID-19 is not driving a need for automation in and of itself, but companies emerging from this current crisis will shift in this direction from their current state. Businesses will keep going as best they can – from recovering cash and operations, to identifying and mitigating medium and long term risks to become more resilient, and building a platform for sustainable growth in the future. The short-term focus will be on getting visibility over demand, inventory and supply disruptions through tools like Control Towers; in the medium-term, this will shift to trying to eliminate the extraordinary costs that have occurred during the crisis – cost optimisation, scenario planning, seeking alternative sources of supply, and in the longer-term the focus will be on sustainable profitable agility.”
What are the challenges manufacturers are facing when it comes to automation due to COVID-19?
“Depending on the type of automation, companies are finding that they’re not always able to cope with the level of agility that’s required to make it work in practice. In the past, companies installed automated warehouses to reduce costs and increase output, but discovered that during periods of extreme volatility and uncertainty that automation became a constraint rather than a benefit. In response, companies moved to reduce the level of automation in their warehouses – replacing it with much more flexible human resources. However, we’ve seen recent labour shortages and a lack of affordable warehousing capacity leading to companies giving automation serious consideration.
What are the benefits of automation during a crisis like COVID-19?
“We have seen incredibly volatile and unpredictable demand patterns for many products – particularly food, beverage and consumer goods. Normal statistical forecasting techniques (based on sales history) have been unable to accurately predict future demand. However, machine learning algorithms have been able to spot patterns and correlations from a much broader array of seemingly unrelated data points to learn the demand patterns and provide forecasts with useable accuracy.”
How can future crises be mitigated by the use of automation?
“Machine learning has proven its ability to improve forecasting during the current crisis. It will perform even better next time around, having “learned” from the current period. It will help mitigate the impact of future crises through automation of responses to supply chain disruption and revised sourcing strategies.
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Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.