Docomo, Yokogawa conduct test of remote control tech using 5G and AI
Both Yokogawa and Docomo are members of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation
Japanese telco NTT Docomo and compatriot firm Yokogawa Electric Corporation have conducted a proof-of-concept (PoC) test of a remote control technology for industrial processing.
In a release, NTT Docomo noted that the PoC test involved the use of an autonomous control AI, the Factorial Kernel Dynamic Policy Programming (FKDPP) algorithm developed by Yokogawa and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, in a cloud environment and a 5G mobile communications network provided by Docomo.
This algorithm was recognized by the IEEE as being the first reinforcement learning-based AI in the world that can be utilized in plant management.
The test, which successfully controlled a simulated plant processing operation, demonstrated that 5G is suitable for the remote control of actual plant processes, the Japanese carrier said.
NTT Docomo also explained that the trend to locate production facilities in remote and/or hazardous areas in recent years is fueling a growing demand for remote industrial operations and transforming how people work. Meanwhile, equipment used in plants to purify and refine resources and materials for essential products can deteriorate after many years of use, so remote, autonomous regulation and control would be hugely beneficial.
Following an agreement between Yokogawa and Docomo announced on April 14, 2021, the demonstration was conducted to verify whether a three tank level control system could be controlled using FKDPP in the cloud via a 5G network. A target water level was set, tests with low- to high-speed control cycles were conducted, and the effects of mobile-communications latency on FKDPP control were confirmed.
Compared to 4G, the test demonstrated that especially with high-speed control, 5G delivers lower latency, less overshoot relative to the target water level and the capability of handling a control cycle as short as 0.2 seconds, thereby achieving better control for more stable quality and higher energy efficiency.
Regarding the roles of both companies in the PoC, Yokogawa provided and operated test environment, including autonomous control AI in the cloud and compared 4G and 5G performance and evaluated impact of latency on remote control, while Docomo provided 4G and 5G communications environments and examined and optimized communications environments during control operations.
Both Yokogawa and Docomo, as members of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), will continue to evaluate the use of 5G for remote, autonomous plant operations.
Kenji Hasegawa, vice president and head of the Yokogawa Products Headquarters at Yokogawa Electric Corporation, said: “Our autonomous control AI can be used not only in the process industry, but also for certain processes in factory automation, such as heating processes. It can be used in areas where existing control technologies cannot be applied, can achieve shorter settling times compared to existing technologies, and prevent overshoot. In general, the tangible benefits included improved productivity and contribution to a more sustainable society. By linking information on production, inventory, demand, and other matters with the cloud-based autonomous control AI, it will be possible to align management directives with the actual control of operations on the plant floor. Although wireless communications have been used in plants, this innovation uses 5G for cloud-based autonomous control AI.”
“The demonstration has shown that low-latency 5G communications helps to improve the accuracy of remote-control operations in plants, which is expected to contribute significantly to sustainable productivity for processing and other types of manufacturing. Docomo, together with Yokogawa and partners, will continue to develop 5G and other mobile communications environments for diverse worksites in processing industries in order to overcome challenges and create new value,” said Hisakazu Tsuboya, SVP and general manager of 5G & IoT Business Department at NTT Docomo.
Yokogawa provides advanced solutions in the areas of measurement, control, and information to customers across a broad range of industries, including energy, chemicals, materials, pharmaceuticals and food.