AIS collaborates with ZTE, Suranaree University of Technology to launch laboratory for ‘Smart Plant’ solutions for industries
Despite the COVID-19 crisis and its devastating affects on the Thai economy, the country’s digital services leader, AIS, has continued to expand its 5G network and is actively engaged in demonstrating and promoting use of 5G technology in the industrial sector.
Recognizing the importance of national economic development and competitiveness, AIS has now joined forces with a long-time partner – the Chinese tech and telecommunications company ZTE – and the Suranaree University of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima, to unveil the “5G Smart Factory Use Cases” laboratory. The intention is to introduce 5G innovations to real-world industries.
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According to AIS’s Senior Vice-President for Nationwide Operations and Support, Wasit Wattanasap, Thailand is among the first countries in the world to embrace 5G, and educating entrepreneurs about the benefits 5G can bring to their operations is a mission requiring special attention.
He says that AIS has been continuously improving its 5G network across all 77 Thai provinces. It now covers more than 90 per cent of Bangkok’s population and more than 95 per cent of the population of the Eastern Economic Corridor.
In technical terms, AIS has a complete range of frequencies – low, mid, and high – and each is used for different purposes. While a low frequency can cover the widest area, it is not very fast in speed. However, 5G boasts very low latency, or delay between an instruction and the resulting action, making it especially useful in some applications. AIS also boats the biggest high-frequency band, offering perfect performance for the hotspots of private networks.
AIS has already introduced 5G technologies to more than 10 industries. For example, it has just launched V-Avenue for Smart Retail. Moreover, its 5G augmented and virtual reality now features a much greater variety of content with Sea Port, Folk Lift and SMC for the industrial sector. For the healthcare sector, 5G has used artificial intelligence with CT-Scan services at hospitals, both in Bangkok and the provinces. All of these cases underline how 5G can serve a wide variety of industries.
Wasit says that five cases of industrial operators using 5G have arisen from collaboration between Suranaree University and the operators, so AIS has set up a permanent laboratory at the university’s campus in Nakhon Ratchasima.
“This lab has now become a hub beckoning industrial operators,” Wasit says. “AIS, the university, and ZTE have fine-tuned 5G applications to suit the requirements of each use case.”
One of the use cases deploys mechanical inspectors, or smart robotic arms, which can tell if a project is flawed or perfect upon touch. In another case, robots are deployed for plant patrols. All of these use cases are on display at the Suranaree University of Technology.
“We have entered into this partnership because we want to create new experiences for entrepreneurs who are interested in Industry 4.0, and to offer opportunities for university students to study and develop 5G applications together,” Wasit says.
Showcase – development – transfer of 5G technology
The Director of Suranaree University of Technology’s Research and Development Institute, Associate Professor Peerapong Uthansakul, says the partnership with AIS and ZTE resonates with the university’s key mission of conducting research and transferring technologies to the industrial sector. Suranaree University of Technology sits at a strategic location, linking the Eastern Economic Corridor with special economic zones in the country’s northeast. Nakhon Ratchasima has three big industrial estates and is a manufacturing base for several global firms.
“We have conducted international research and we have transferred technologies to the industrial sector. We have also organized digital training and 5G classes for entrepreneurs. So, we are a good place for innovative 5G-based research and development,” Peerapong says, “Thanks to AIS and ZTE, we have transformed into a perfect 5G learning hub. We have equipment to demonstrate how 5G technologies work and we are ready to transfer useful innovations at national, regional, and international levels.”
The target groups of the 5G-tech collaboration are university students, researchers, the general public, and industrial operators.
“We are the birthplace of the first smart-factory prototypes, so we can bring actual needs to classes. University students are welcome to visit our hub, which seeks to inspire visitors and encourage the development of startups. Our courses prescribe learning and research that will bring students closer to technologies and benefits to the business sector,” Peerapong says.
Use cases in Thailand
ZTE Corporation’s Vice President for Global Marketing, Ling Zhi, says the digital economy has been growing not just in Thailand, but also across the globe. In Thailand, the number of 5G-compatible devices has risen following AIS’s introduction of its 5G network in 2020. Meanwhile, ZTE’s innovations have contributed to growth in the use of 5G by industries in China and other countries. One notable case is the collaborative development of an innovative quality-control system for one of the world’s biggest steel manufacturers.
Moreover, ZTE has created innovative systems involving robots and automation for industrial operators in the Chinese capital, Beijing. Success cases from ZTE’s work with industries in Beijing will be among the exhibits in Nakhon Ratchasima, to give clear evidence of how robots can fulfill the needs of industrial operators.
Ling says that ZTE is currently partnered with 90 5G-network operators and 500 industrial operators across the world. Thus, it has full confidence that it will be able to accommodate growing 5G usage across various industries in the future. This, he says, will involve three steps. First, it will configure a network and equipment for best performance. Second, it will expand its network to Cloud and various other platforms for mass-level usage. Third, it will prepare premium management using various applications serving their purposes separately, yet in harmony with the bigger system. Designs will be rooted in flexible networks, as ZTE’s design philosophy is to create flexible and cost-efficient devices in the hope that industrial operators will be interested in investing in research and development.
“ZTE trusts that our partnership with AIS will help to bring Thailand’s industrial sector to the next level,” Ling says.
ZTE Thailand’s Chief Executive, Han Zhiming, says his company will present ‘ZTE Smart Factory’ devices at Suranaree University of Technology. These will include automated guided vehicles, 5G inspection robots, augmented-reality remote-guidance systems, and real-time quality-control systems with smart robotic arms. Such devices are already in use in China. ZTE hopes that these technologies will help the industrial sector to reduce costs and achieve higher efficiency, given that 5G networks deliver fast speed, low latency, and better responses to the needs of industrial operators. Such benefits look set to drive Thai industries well, he says.
ZTE has been a partner of AIS for more than 15 years. Together, they have developed communication-management systems for greater quality. Lately, they have also been partners in the development of Thailand’s 5G network, based on SA (stand-alone) and NSA (non-stand-alone) systems.
“Today, we not only partner with AIS, but also with a leading university. We expect this to foster further 5G research and development that will empower various industries in Thailand and pave the way for Thais to live safely and happily,” Han adds.
ZTE, which is part-owned by the Chinese government, has long been involved in tech collaborations. However, its 5G partnership with AIS is the first of its kind in Asia-Pacific. In ZTE’s opinion, 5G growth will finally cover all industries, including those in the fast-growing medical, tourism, transportation and energy sectors.
Five ‘smart-factory’ use cases enabled by 5G
The collaboration of AIS, ZTE and Suranaree University of Technology presents five use cases of 5G-enabled smart-factory solutions:
- In the case of 5G-cloud automated guided vehicles (AGVs), the collaboration
- Facilitates automated logistic systems for industrial plants; and
- Brings 5G, artificial intelligence and laser-based navigation technologies to the same platform.
- The AGV moves autonomously, avoids obstacles and draws up its own map;
- It can accommodate loads up to 300 kg; and
- It works with accuracy, speed and punctuality.
The automated guided vehicle moves around autonomously. Developed for higher intelligence and efficiency, it is suited to an industrial-plant environment. Operating on a 5G network and backed by partners’ technologies, the 5G cloud AGV has a machine-to-machine function. Its autonomous-driving system can draw up its own map.
In the past, the AGV used a laser or magnetic guidance system, and the AGV faced many problems inside industrial plants because manufacturing teams often reconfigure their manufacturing lines. However, the 5G cloud AGV is able to avoid any barrier on its own as it navigates the route to its destination. It can even draw its own map. There is no longer any need to reset magnetic maps when a new route is required.
- The 5G robotic arm
- Moves automatically, based on programming;
- Is able to detect flaws, damaged printed letters, and even scratches on a product with impressive accuracy; and
- It can automatically separate and select products.
The robotic arm plays a significant role at manufacturing bases. Designed to handle several sizes of objects, the 5G robotic arm helps to boost efficiency and reduce problems at industrial plants.
- 5G inspection or patrol robots
- Recognize and determine their routes in advance;
- Move automatically along predetermined routes and avoid obstacles;
- Are equipped with cameras and temperature readers, with data sent to command;
- Have a facial-recognition feature and are able to check mask-wearing;
- Can present pictures from various angles and issue warnings upon detecting suspicious incidents; and
- Help to provide round-the-clock security.
The patrol robots work like security guards that uphold security on a targeted premises. They can even detect unauthorized entry and issue warnings. In addition to facial-recognition ability, this system can issue alerts when suspicious incidents are detected.
- 5G augmented-reality remote guidance
- Enables remote supervision and consultation;
- Provides real-time audio and video communication with specialists;
- Delivers advice from specialists at distant locations;
- Features an augmented-reality function for enhanced communications between users and specialists; and
- Is compatible with voice commands and has an automatic system for detecting target objects.
This 5G solution makes an industrial plant smarter, because it offers remote guidance. At factories, machines or manufacturing belts sometimes need the attention of specialists who can help with installations and more. With this solution, specialists can communicate with staff at the factories without the need to go to the site. The 5G augmented-reality remote guidance enables real-time communications and realistic images. This innovation can enhance communications between staff on site and technical teams and supervisors. Work time on certain tasks can be reduced and performance enhanced.
- 5G virtual reality monitoring
- Enables real-time inspections;
- Monitors work and controls manufacturing efficiency; and
- Provides 360-degree monitoring.
This device contributes to quality control in the manufacturing process, from the stage of raw-material intake to delivery of finished products. 5G virtual reality monitoring keeps watch on a worksite in real time. It can detect flawed products with high accuracy, thus upholding high standards and production consistency.