Samsung, AT&T team up on smart 5G factory in Austin, Texas

Samsung Austin Semiconductor
The Samsung Austin Semiconductor facilities in Austin, Texas, will get its own 5G test network next year. (Samsung)

Samsung Electronics America is not only working with AT&T on 5G network infrastructure, but the Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS) facility is also preparing to implement its own 5G test network using Samsung gear and the AT&T network early next year. It’s been described as the first manufacturing-focused 5G “Innovation Zone” in the city.

The SAS facility, originally built in 1996, is massive in itself, spanning several buildings over a 160-acre site in Austin, Texas. It’s highly regarded as a state-of-the-art facility. Still, executives think they can use 5G to make improvements in the manufacturing environment.

The focus initially is on four main areas: security, training, plant control and location services. But Jon Taylor, vice president of Manufacturing and Systems Technology at Samsung Austin Semiconductor, said he’s particularly interested in another: using virtual reality for training purposes.

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Currently, a large portion of the work force is comprised of technicians who fix the equipment and to provide the training to do that, Samsung has to take a tool out of production to do the training. Using virtual reality, the thought is that the plant will see higher productivity and the technicians will get equal or better training in the VR environment, Taylor told FierceWirelessTech.

They also think 5G will be useful in deploying industrial IoT sensors to monitor equipment and the environment. Changes in equipment speed or vibration or in the temperature or pressure of the environment can affect the process controls.

“We think that these sensors in areas of the factory that we were not able to monitor before, we are going to get a lot  of useful data that we’re going to be able to do the analytics on and hopefully find some solutions to control that, put in some predictive maintenance perhaps, allowing us to keep our processes under control and provide that high quality that our customers demand,” Taylor said.

They will be using millimeter wave spectrum, though the precise band or bands were not identified. Samsung Electronics America will be delivering its virtual core, RAN and CPE routers, with AT&T bringing components as well for a full-fledged 5G network.

“When you look at the value of 5G—massive bandwidth, massive connectivity, low latency, high reliability—the manufacturing environment really requires all those elements that only 5G can deliver,” said Wilf Norrlinger, vice president, Networks Division, Samsung Electronics America, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. “We think the smart factory is probably one of the first or the first practical use cases where we can realize the advantage of 5G,” starting with tests in early 2019. “As we go through the next year, we’re going to validate that.”

Another use case they’re exploring is using location technology on the site. Currently, due to not only the size but the layout and multiple floors of the SAS facilities, they can’t always reach people in all areas. But 5G should make that a thing of the past, and if video capabilities are overlaid along with that, “we may be able to get some recognition capabilities so that in the event of any site emergency, we would be able to know where all of our employees were at,” Taylor said.

Overall, “it’s been a good collaborative effort thus far, and everybody’s excited to see what we can get on the results end,” he added.