LiFi & Industry 4.0

LiFi is a new, highly-anticipated technology that combines wireless connectivity with overhead lighting, allowing its users to enjoy network connectivity and illumination in a single system. The wireless transfer of data is achieved by modulating light at ultra-high speeds, making the process undetectable to the human eye. This enables the system to transfer high amounts of data at high speeds while also enjoying other benefits such as high security and reliability without sacrificing the freedom of wireless connection.

Aside from its many applications within the setting of a home, LiFi is projected to make a huge impact industrially due largely to its ability to optimize the manufacturing process by increasing connectivity and improving data delivery. Its arrival in the industry allows manufacturers to accommodate the changes and improvements brought about by automation.

What other roles does LiFi play in the industry? How can LiFi be applied in manufacturing? Let us explore how LiFi can impact manufacturing and spark the new industrial revolution – dubbed as Industry 4.0.

A Look at Automation Today

The automation of the manufacturing process has made mass production more efficient while greatly reducing costs as well as the time needed for the production of goods. Over the past three decades, the evolution of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics has vastly improved factory production while also effectively lowering costs of production (COP) and time needed for the production of goods.

Production is a continuously evolving process. Outdated processes need to be updated to suit the ever-growing needs of the market. That is why manufacturers have to increase their digital IQ and be comfortable in adopting new technologies. As part of this process of constant reinvention, manufacturers of today employ various equipment in order to automate tasks. These include the use of robotic arms on the production line, sensors and actuators for increased mobility, and unmanned automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) for increased efficiency. But more than that, wireless technologies have greatly enhanced the manufacturer’s ability to gather time-critical information, analyze it, and respond to it – a key to increasing productivity and profitability.

But the type of environment created by the adoption of these technologies has also created a number of obstacles that have made the integration of wireless strategies difficult. For one, most of these machines require attached wires to operating, which prevents fully autonomous movement and restricts quick reconfiguration on the factory floor. Additionally, various undesirable effects can occur on the manufacturing floor, impeding the performance of radio frequency (RF) signals. These disruptions include reflections off of large objects, Doppler effects, shadowing from solid objects, diffraction from sharp objects, and scattering due to small objects.

What is Industry 4.0?

The first industrial revolution came about with the mechanization of the manufacturing process through water and steam power in the late 1700s. Then came the second industrial revolution, known as the technological revolution, which introduced the assembly line and improved mass production using electricity. The adoption of computers into the manufacturing process brought about the third industrial revolution. Now, greater incorporation of computers and increasing digitization of manufacturing plants fueled by machine learning and data has brought manufacturing on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. This is known as Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 introduces the concept of “smart factories”. It is seen as a world where all the layers of an organization can be automated. This creates a way for organizations to monitor the production line as well as the communication lines with customers real-time, which in turn allows the organization to continually evaluate and improve its processes.

What are the Benefits of Industry 4.0?

Manufacturing entails the production of low-cost, high-quality, and immediately-available goods. However, with the current manufacturing technology, most manufacturers offer only one or two of those qualities with the others coming off as tradeoffs. The coming of Industry 4.0 changes all that as six potential categories of benefits are identified. These include:

Efficiency – efficiency is boosted as decisions as well as the production of goods are made with higher qualities.
Agility – even in industries where products are highly diverse, production is accelerated as specifications of products are easily communicated and read.
Innovation – manufacturers are more open to innovations as equipment are highly-flexible and customizable.
Customer experience – an increase in information-gathering and responsiveness offers a higher-quality customer experience.
Costs – boosts in the efficiency of the production of goods, both in the product and process side, will lead to a plummeting of costs for production and operation.
Revenues – better quality products and better product mix creates more opportunities to generate revenue. When coupled with lower costs, this leads to higher profit.

How Can Factories Be Classified as Industry 4.0?

According to Forbes, there are several considerations in order for a factory to be considered Industry 4.0. These include:

Interoperability – factories must have people, machines, devices, and sensors that are all interconnected and can communicate with each other.
Information transparency – virtual copies of the physical world are created by systems through data obtained from sensors in order to provide context to information gained.
Technical assistance – systems have the ability to support humans in decision making and problem-solving as well as provide assistance in tasks that are way beyond human capabilities (too difficult or too unsafe).
Decentralized decision-making – cyber-physical systems are able to act autonomously and make simple decisions on their own.

What are the Challenges Faced in the Adoption of Industry 4.0?

The same news report given by Forbes revealed several challenges that are inherent in the adoption of Industry 4.0. These challenges include:
Increased data security issues due to the integration of new systems and the greater need for access to those systems. Proprietary production knowledge also becomes an IT security problem.
The integrity of the production process becomes difficult to maintain with less human oversight.
Technical problems could become expensive.
Reliability and stability needed for maintaining cyber-physical communication are difficult to achieve and maintain.
The use of radio frequencies for communication is subject to hazards and latency issues, making it unsafe and unreliable.

LiFi in Industry 4.0

With the coming of Industry 4.0, LiFi has been tapped as the technology that can certainly bring industries to that level. Industry experts see LiFi helping industries in a variety of manners. This report from pureLiFi outlines various benefits that LiFi can provide to Industry 4.0 and enhance its capabilities. These include:

Real-time Monitoring

Replacing RF with LiFi systems enables manufacturing plants to enjoy higher comprehensiveness and greater reliability in real-time monitoring of operations. This allows engineers to easily identify errors or problems that may occur during production.

Improved Maintenance Identification

A more reliable monitoring system allows easier identification of areas that require maintenance. This means stopping operations for preventive maintenance or maintenance interventions only when necessary. This also allows better planning for maintenance activities, which drives costs down while improving the lifespan and reliability of equipment.

Increased Automation

Automation of the manufacturing process requires efficient networks that can transmit data at high speeds between units. Wired Ethernet connections offer reliable services but offer their own disadvantages while RF signals suffer from latency issues, creating unreliable services. LiFi offers a reliable alternative to increasing automation as they offer fast, secure, and reliable connections.

Informed Decision-making

Informed decisions are made while using data as a basis. The data required to make correct decisions need to be reliable. Incorrect data collection can lead to incorrect and unreliable data. Improved network speeds and greater reliability of LiFi allow smarter, more reliable collection of data at faster speeds. This, in turn, allows manufacturers to make the correct decisions.

Enhanced Security

Current wireless communication systems have many security gaps mainly because of the properties of radio waves. Its biggest security flaw is the ability of radio waves to pass through walls, making wireless connections susceptible to external attacks. In contrast, LiFi connections are limited areas that the light touches, which means outside attacks are not possible. This leads to very secure connections.

Greater Data Density

Data density directly affects the quality of service that can be achieved by each user since it pertains to the wireless capacity available in a particular area for a particular network connection. LiFi offers significantly higher data densities than other wireless networks as each light bulb is able to provide a single connection. In a room with 8 LiFi-integrated lights with each light transmitting data at speeds up to 42 Mbps, the total capacity of each room will be 336 Mbps.

Wireless Connectivity in RF Hostile Industries

There are certain hazardous industries that are considered too hostile for radio frequencies. These mainly encompass petrochemical industries where the products are highly sensitive to radio waves. These could also include industries for power generation as these could interfere with connections that use RF. For these industries, LiFi is a good alternative that is able to provide wireless connectivity without posing any threats to safety. LiFi makes use of low energy-requiring and low energy-emitting light bulbs that are able to provide connectivity to areas that are covered by illumination.

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