How 5G will Transform Construction Machines

July 11, 2018
What will 5G mean for the future of manufacturing? Patrik Lundblad, senior vice president of Technology at Volvo CE, analyzes the mobile data revolution.

The advantages of a faster, more reliable 5G network represent a huge step forward in connectivity for any sector. But within the construction industry, in particular, it opens up great potential for processing mobile data which will inevitably impact the ways in which our machines communicate and interact remotely. To be at the forefront of this digital revolution and to collaborate on developing new technologies is being viewed as a game changer.

But construction is not alone. All industries are now embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) to such an extent that the demand for smart technologies is soaring. Companies now need the fastest and most reliable networks to keep up with this demand—whether that is for streaming services, mobile applications, or connected machines. While individual consumers will inevitably welcome zippier transfer speeds on their mobile phones, there is no doubt that it is within industrial applications that 5G offers the biggest opportunity.

Volvo’s remote-controlled wheel loader was developed as part of the PIMM project.

Staying Ahead of the Game

When Telia Chief Technology Officer Mats Lundbäck announced the involvement of Volvo CE in the Telia Journey to 5G Partnership Program, it put us in the enviable position of being among the first companies in the world—let alone the construction equipment industry—to test 5G enabled technologies potentially years ahead of 5G becoming available to the wider public.

Telia’s select group of industry partners was gathered from across Nordic countries and given a platform to develop their own technologies. For Volvo CE, this means autonomous machines and site solutions to increase safety, productivity, and uptime—all from a new test site in Eskilstuna, Sweden.

Patrik Lundblad, senior vice president of Technology at Volvo Construction Equipment.

Exploring the Potential for Autonomy

5G will be crucial in providing the infrastructure we need to develop autonomous machines. In essence, this new generation of mobile network is expected to deliver transfer speeds considerably faster than the current 4G network, and is therefore capable of transporting huge amounts of data in far less time. This will mean self-driving construction machines will be able to recognize signals, map an area more accurately, and communicate with each other far more easily than ever before. All of this will make construction sites run more efficiently and safely.

In sectors such as mining, where it can take several hours of ventilation after blasting rocks before the environment is safe enough for operators to enter, moving closer to removing humans from the production site entirely will bring great advantages in productivity and safety.

Drone technology will also receive a boost. Increased bandwidth, coupled with reduced latency and improved reliability, will allow a seamless transfer of ultra-high-definition video. And while virtual reality has been slow to take off, partly due to a lack of connectivity issues, the increased efficiency of 5G could unlock its true potential.

During the two-year program, Volvo CE will test the potential of 5G by creating a local cellular network at its facility in Eskilstuna, then using it to expand its competences and develop ongoing research into autonomous technology.

This is not the first time Volvo CE has partnered with Telia. The Swedish companies also collaborated on an award-winning digital mining project last year. The Pilot for Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining (PIMM), which was named Digitalization Project of the Year at the Telecom Gala last February, saw the testing of a concept remote-control wheel loader capable of operating more than 1,312 ft underground.

This project demonstrated the potential for autonomy, and further investment through this Telia program will move us ever closer to realizing these possibilities. 5G will allow us to transport data in ways that we could only ever dream about. There is no doubt that it can increase the possibilities for autonomous and remote-controlled machines in our future. By eliminating the potential safety hazards and downtime associated with operations like mining, we can move closer to fulfilling our ambitions of delivering zero emissions, zero accidents, and zero unplanned stops.

Patrik Lundblad’s career has included senior roles for the Saab and General Motors automotive brands. He currently serves as senior vice president of Volvo Construction Equipment. A Swedish national, Lundblad holds a Master’s of Science degree in electrical engineering from Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, and an MBA from the Gothenburg School of Economics and Commercial Law.

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