A team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems in Dresden has developed a Li-Fi communication module that allows wireless networking of devices that are used in industrial production. The optical transmission technology not only facilitates the exchange of huge amounts of data, but also meets the high real-time characteristics of automation technology. The technology is intended to supplement or replace wired fieldbus or Ethernet systems prone to wear and tear.
Industrial 4.0 has already been introduced in many companies. In the future, processes in factories will be fully automated and manufacturing and logistics will become more computerized. Therefore, more and more sensors, machines and control units must communicate with each other, which in turn leads to high amounts of data needing to be transferred. Moreover, the need for communication between intelligent automation systems, especially in the control and sensor/actuator field will become increasingly time-critical. Many cases will require the communication system and data transmission cycle times to be synchronized at a tact of less than one millisecond. To meet these growing challenges of industrial networks, companies have long tended to replace or supplement slow communication links existing in the field of production and process automation with Ethernet-based and real-time fieldbus systems.
However, the available, so-called industrial Ethernet systems are wired and unable to function without expensive, wear-prone connections, special cables or slip rings. Installing a signal cable from the sensors or actuators to the control unit is often found to be very expensive or even impossible, particularly in mobile or moving system components such as gripper arms or lifting devices. Fraunhofer IPMS has developed an IPMS Li-Fi communication module, named GigaDock. This module provides substantial advantages in such situations. The GigaDock uses the available regulatory-free spectrum of light with a bandwidth up to 12.5 gigabits per second. That's 10 times faster than current wireless solutions such as WLAN, Bluetooth or ZigBee. They were able to achieve very good real-time characteristics at distances of up to 50 mm and demonstrate latency values of less than one millisecond. The driverless transmitter/receiver modules combine an optical transceiver and a protocol controller with a Gigabit Ethernet interface and can thus be easily integrated into industry-standard systems.
Developers from the Fraunhofer IPMS will present the GigaDock communication module along with other Li-Fi demonstrators for greater distances of up to 10 meters at the 2016 ECOC in Dusseldorf from 19-21 September. The ECOC is Europe's largest conference and exhibition for optical communications. They provides individual Customer Evaluation Kits for the testing of their Li-Fi technology for different fields of application.