Tag Archives: 5G

Future Factories with 5G

The world is moving fast. If you are a manufacturer still using Industry 3.0 today, you must move your shop floor forward to Industry 4.0 for being relevant tomorrow, and plan for Industry 5.0, for being around next week. 5G may be the answer to how you should make the changes to move forward.

There has been a sea of changes in technology, for instance, manufacturing uses edge computing now, and the advent of the Internet of Things has led to the evolution.

At present, we are in the digital transformation era, or Industry 4.0. People call it by different names like intelligent industry, factory of the future, or smart factory. These terms indicate that we are using a data-oriented approach. However, it is also necessary to collaborate with the manufacturing foundation. This approach is the Golden Triangle, based on three main systems—PLM or Product Lifecycle Management, MES or Manufacturing Execution Systems, and ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning.

With IoT, there is an impact on the manufacturing process, depending on the data collected in real-time, and its analytics. Of course, it complements existing systems that are more oriented to the process. Therefore, rather than replace, IoT actually complements and collaborates with the existing systems that help the manufacturer to manage the shop floor.

IoT is one of the major driving factors behind the movement that we know as Industry 4.0. One of its key points is to enable massive automation. This requires data collection from the shop floor and moving it to the cloud. On the other end, it will need advanced analytics. This is necessary to optimize the workflow and processes that the manufacturer uses. After the lean strategy, there will be a kind of lean software, acting as one more step towards process optimization within the company and on the shop floor.

However, manufacturers will face several challenges as they grow and scale up their IoT initiatives. These will include automation, flexibility, and sustainability. Of these, automation is already the key topic in the market—the integration of technologies to automate the various manufacturing processes.

The next in line is flexibility. For instance, if you are manufacturing a product in a line, it takes a long time to change that line for making another product.

The last challenge is rather vast. Sustainability means making manufacturing cost-effective by improving the processes and the efficiency of the equipment. It may be necessary to minimize energy consumption, and decrease lead time and manufacturing time. It may involve using less material and reducing wastage.

With the advent of 5G, manufacturers will be witnessing many new and exciting possibilities. The IoT of today has two game-changers that will affect the IoT of the future. The first game-changer is 5G, while edge technology is the other. Ten years ago, IoT was only a few devices sending data to the cloud for human interaction and analytics.

Now, there has been a substantial increase in the number of devices deployed and the amount of data traffic. In fact, with the humongous increase of data, many a time, it is not possible to send everything to the cloud. While 5G helps with the massive transfer of data, edge computing helps standardize the data and compute it locally, before the transfer.

Are We Ready for 6G?

Apart from simply being an evolution of the 5G technology, 6G is actually a transformation of cellular technology. Just like 4G introduced us to the mobile Internet, and 5G helped to expand cellular communications beyond the customary cell phones, with 6G the world will be taken to newer heights of mobile communications, beyond the traditional devices and applications for cellular communication.

6G devices operate at sub-terahertz or sub-THz frequencies with wide bandwidths. That means 6G opens up the possibility of transfers of massive amounts of information compared to those under use by 4G and even 5G. Therefore, 6G frequencies and bandwidth will provide applications with immersive holograms with VR or Virtual Reality and AR or Augmented Reality.

However, working at sub-THz frequencies means newer research and understanding of material properties, antennas, and semiconductors, along with newer DSP or Digital Signal Processing technologies. Researchers are working with materials like SiGe or Silicon Germanium and InP or Indium Phosphide to develop highly integrated high-power devices. Many commercial entities, universities, and defense industries have been going ahead with research on using these compound semiconductor technologies for years. Their goal is to improve the upper limits of frequency and performance in areas like linearity and noise. It is essential for the industry to understand the system performance before they can commercialize these materials for use in 6G systems.

As the demand increases for higher data rates, the industry moves towards higher frequencies, because of the higher tranches of bandwidth availability. This has been a continuous trend across all generations of cellular technology. For instance, 5G has expanded into bands between 24 and 71 GHz. 6G research is also likely to take the same path. For instance, commercial systems are already using bands from FR2 or Frequency Range 2. The demand for high data rates is at the root of all this trend-setting.

6G devices working at sub-THz frequencies require generating adequate amounts of power for overcoming higher propagation losses and semiconductor limits. Their antenna design must integrate with both the receiver and the transmitter. The receiver design must offer the lowest possible noise figures. The entire available band must have high-fidelity modulation. Digital signal processing must be high-speed to accommodate high data rates in wide bandwidth swathes.

While focussing on the above aspects, it is also necessary to overcome the physical barriers of material properties while reducing noise in the system. This requires the development of newer technologies that not only work at high frequencies, but also provide digitization, test, and measurements at those frequencies. For instance, handling research at sub-THz systems requires wide bandwidth test instruments.

A 6G working system may require characterization of the channel through which its signals propagate. This is because the sub-THz region for 6G has novel frequency bands for effective communications. Such channel-sounding characterization is necessary to create a mathematical model of the radio channel that can encompass intercity reflectors such as buildings, cars, and people. This helps to design the rest of the transceiver technology. It also includes modulation and encoding schemes for forward error correction and overcoming channel variations.

5G Modem for IoT and Wearable Devices

Although yet to become a commonplace scenario, we have been seeing and hearing about 5G quite often nowadays. For the most part, IoT devices and wearables are still in the realm of 4G LTE, while the rest of the industry has surged ahead. Now, Qualcomm is set to change that with the introduction of its Snapdragon X35 modem. With their new modem, Qualcomm aims to provide 5G support to these small devices. They are calling this technology 5G NR-Light, because of its reduced capability. According to the manufacturers, X35 modems will have a maximum downlink speed of around 220 Mbps and an uplink speed of around 100 Mbps.

Qualcomm claims their Snapdragon X35 will bring several breakthroughs in the world of 5G. Not only is the design of the world’s first 5G NR-Light modem cost-effective, but its streamlined form factor also leads to power efficiency. In addition, the company has designed the modem with optimized thermal performance. The company expects the Snapdragon X35 to power the next generation of intelligent connected edge devices while empowering an entire range of users. The company is eagerly waiting to work with industry leaders in unified 5G platforms and unleash the possibilities.

Although featuring a tiny form factor, NR-Light is mighty in performance. It features all the good aspects of 5G, starting from spectral efficiency and the ability to access new sub-6 GHz bands. High-end wearable devices, while incorporating the Snapdragon X35 modem, can communicate at the high speeds that 5G offers. In the industrial context, many IoT devices will be able to incorporate the X35 modem to improve their performance. The company is aiming its new modem at devices like Chromebooks, router products, low-end PCs, and many more. Another good feature is the new modem does not need an additional Qualcomm SoC to make it function.

To make it compatible with existing devices, Qualcomm has designed the Snapdragon X35 to support 4G LTE as well, as a fallback option. Even with such powerful features and working at such high speeds, the new modem consumes the lowest power of all the modems the company has manufactured so far. Although many other OEMs are showing a lot of interest, the first device to use this modem will emerge only in the first half of 2024. According to Qualcomm, the price of the Snapdragon X35 5G NR-Light modem will be around half that of its counterpart, the Snapdragon X55 modem.

Qualcomm has released more interesting features about their new modem. According to them, the Snapdragon X35 modem has the same interfaces as its predecessor LTE modems. This information is of vital importance for existing consumers with older designs. At least in theory, they can integrate the new modem in their designs with ease and avail the capabilities of 5G instantly.

Qualcomm has one more trick up its sleeve. They have announced another new modem, the Snapdragon X32, in addition to the Snapdragon X35 modem. They have designed the X32 modem as a modem-to-antenna solution suitable for use on lower-cost devices that work on NR-Light.

Connectivity Opportunities with 5G

Various parts of the world use different connectivity standards. While some are still struggling with 2, 3, and 4G connectivity, more progressive countries are trying out 5G and 6G. However, since 2019, when the markets introduced 5G, there has been considerable interest in its features. Smartphone manufacturers are now launching new handsets that offer the promise of substantially faster internet access along with the most advanced functionality.

So far, several mobile networks have adopted 5G, the latest and fastest protocol in the market. The recent pandemic forced millions to work from home remotely, and the high-speed wireless communication that 5G offers, came at the most opportune moment.

While manufacturers are busy offering the latest generation of mobile phones to access the 5G wireless telecommunications, many are still not aware of the true impact that the 5G technology has brought us overall. While 5G is a powerful tool for consumers, they are not the sole beneficiaries. 5G is slated to impart a far greater impact to the industrial world as compared to what any other network has so far. In fact, the data speeds offered by 5G are even challenging those from the more traditional wired technologies. This is the first time the world can unshackle itself from a physically wired net.

The introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) has started the Fourth Industrial Revolution rolling. The IoT brings with it machine-to-machine communications, which, in its basic form, allows electronic devices to share data and communicate without requiring any human intervention. The introduction of 5G began at home, where machines are dominating several tasks in everyday life like grocery shopping to energy metering.

Nevertheless, IoT in future homes is only the tip of the iceberg. The functionality that IoT offers to designers is mind-boggling. The manufacturing world is now reveling in the creation of the smart factory, a byproduct of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A traditional factory has several machines, each performing their own tasks, totally isolated from their neighbors. IIoT connects all machines into a network that allows the entire shop floor to act as a single entity. Sharing information among themselves, machines manage not just the production schedules, but also take care of the supply chain, logistics aspects of the operation, and their own maintenance.

With the introduction of 5G communication, the industrial environment will begin to integrate more devices into the smart factory network. A private 5G cell can handle the entire facility while allowing high-speed data flow from all parts of the factory operation, beginning from sensors to the operation of the largest machines. The introduction of a wireless network in the factory brings substantial benefits like unparalleled flexibility. Manufacturers can easily reconfigure production lines to respond to newer demands from the market.

5G communications are not limited to inside the factory premises alone. One of the major users of 5G technology is the automobile industry. While the demand for electric vehicles is growing at a tremendous pace, vehicles are fast becoming autonomous or self-driven. This requires vehicles to communicate with their neighbors on the road. 5G ensures fast communication to promote safety.

How mSAP Enhances HDI PCB Capabilities

With 5G technology around the corner, we are looking at the emergence of 5G smartphones. While this requires new manufacturing technologies such as high-density interconnect Printed Circuit Boards (HDI PCB), smartphones need to be less expensive and produced at greater efficiencies.

Customers usually covet compact sleek devices. Therefore, manufacturers need to balance function and form so that their products stand out in a crowd in a competitive marketplace. The smartphone market can be a treacherous place with corporate fortunes rising and falling on the success and failures of specific generations of phones.

Smartphone designers tend to use every millimeter of space within the device enclosure to unlock significant value for the user. This is how they are able to fit in large and high-resolution displays, large batteries, and more sophisticated processors. This allows designers offer more functionality with an enhanced feature set, ultimately improving the overall user experience.

As most of the design of a smartphone is form-factor driven, PCBs in the form of high density interconnects are the major contributors. These HDI PCBs are specially designed circuits differing from conventional PCBs as they provide the designer with more functions per unit area. Their main advantage is finer copper traces, thinner and more flexible base material and laser drilled via holes. Although HDI PCBs have played a crucial role in creating miniature smartphones and other embedded subsystems, 5G technology demands are more severe.

The new generation smartphones compatible to 5G requires extremely complex RF front ends and antenna configurations involving multiple inputs and multiple outputs—generally known as massive-MIMO. This not only expands the footprint of the RF content within the phone, but also enhances the processing power necessary to control the staggering volume of 5G data. Simultaneously, all the extra features and functionality affects the battery capacity, and hence, the geometry of the phone. Conversely, if the phone geometry is not to increase drastically, the 5G smartphone will have much less space for the HDI PCB inside.

With the reduction in internal space for the PCB, and use of higher 5G frequencies, designers will need to exercise much stricter control on the impedance of traces. Unless they design with extreme precision, the thin traces in HDI PCBs can increase the risk of signal degradation resulting in lapses of data integrity.

PCB designers and fabricators are overcoming these challenges by following the mSAP process. Fabricators of IC substrates generally use this semi-additive process, and HDI PCB fabricators have adopted its modified version.

Typical line to space ratios on the HDI PCBs are 30:30, meaning designers plan for a spacing of 30 µm between adjacent traces of 30 µm width each. Demands of increasing density are forcing fabricators towards line-space ratios of 25:25 and even 20:20, with the help of mSAP. This enables makers of 5G smartphones and other demanding gadgets to achieve unprecedented densities while offering superior geometries with exacting impedance control for their high frequency operation.

Contrary to the subtractive processes used for normal PCB etching, mSAP does the reverse, essentially coating a thin copper trace onto the laminate and subsequently building up its thickness by electroplating over it.