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Why Semiconductor Manufacturer Chose 5G for New Factory

Manufacturers embracing automation to increase efficiency, improve quality, and reduce accidents require robust communications platforms. To achieve the goals of Industry 4.0, data must ride on a high-performance, low-latency, high-availability, and secure network. Private 5G networks provide the best solution for mission-critical applications over wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi and other wireless networks.

While providing high performance and low latency, Ethernet networks are increasingly difficult to leverage in modern manufacturing environments. Wired networks create significant downtime when they need to be modified or reconfigured to accommodate process changes or produce new products. Out of necessity, the adoption of wireless technologies has accompanied the rise of digital transformation inside modern factory environments.  

Wi-Fi has been adopted for data-intensive applications such as video, while Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee, and other short-range technologies have been used for connecting sensors, tools, and other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications that do not require broadband connectivity. These wireless technologies utilize primarily unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum. While providing a good balance of range and throughput, these technologies are also susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) from other devices operating in the band, causing decreased throughput and loss of connectivity.  

The availability of private 5G networks using low-cost, licensed Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum gives manufacturing CIOs a new tool to help meet transformational goals. Private 5G networks deliver high throughput with low latency and can scale without any impact on performance.

Interesting uses of a private 5G network are happening at a new plant in the American southwest being built for one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world. This manufacturer chose a 5G standalone (SA) network due to its inherent security, low latency, application-specific network slicing, scalable performance, and freedom from wires. Planning for this private 5G network involved understanding the intended use cases, application requirements, coverage, areas and uptime requirements.

Only a private 5G network can deliver the performance required for mission-critical use cases. The use cases for the 5G SA network at this plant include:

  1. Command and Control of Manufacturing Equipment: Machinery connected to the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) manages semiconductor fabrication. Equipment monitoring production output connects to the Advanced Process Control (APC) to monitor quality and yield as well as adjust processes to maintain tight tolerance and production targets. Because the machinery and equipment lack embedded wireless functionality, IIoT gateways are installed to provide critical connectivity to the MES and APC systems while maintaining operational flexibility. This application requires real-time feedback in the form of data analyzed by the MES and APC, and instructions that are delivered back to the machinery. The ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) delivered by a 5G network help ensure that operational targets are satisfied.
  2. Environmental Monitoring: Semiconductor manufacturing requires highly corrosive and toxic chemicals to etch and process the silicon wafers. Intelligent gas detection systems monitor gas concentration and alert employees when emission levels become unsafe for humans. These systems can also shut down the manufacturing process to contain dangerous gas outflow. Any delay in the data reaching the environmental monitoring system can threaten workers’ health, or even their lives. The sensors used in the gas detection system are connected using the 5G network with URLLC.
  3. Safety and Security: In semiconductor manufacturing, CCTV cameras connect to an advanced AI video platform to ensure that employees entering the clean room wear adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The video inspection platform requires a high-quality video feed that is buffer- and artifact-free to ensure timely analysis and feedback. To support the high-quality video feeds, the 5G network enables high bandwidth through enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). The 5G network also features network slicing; slicing allows a portion of the network to be dedicated for video transmission with a guaranteed level of throughput to ensure crisp, clean video input for analysis.
  4. Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGV): Wireless connectivity is required for command and control of autonomous pallet jacks transporting wafers into the fabrication area and to the mobile railcars that transport finished products to the packaging area. This application leverages the URLLC aspect of 5G to provide real-time feedback and control to the AGVs to ensure trouble-free operations, eliminating crashes that may damage products or equipment, or accidental collisions with humans – all of which would interrupt operations and degrade production efficiency.  
  5. Future use cases include connectivity for manufacturing robotics and augmented reality for workers engaged in the manufacture and quality assurance of semiconductors.  

All the manufacturer’s applications required a high-availability network to help achieve the business outcomes of increased efficiency and reduced downtime. To achieve high availability, the design featured redundant infrastructure:

  • The mobile core and radio management system were deployed in an N+1 configuration with active-active components ensuring uninterrupted service in the event of a failure.  
  • The radio network was designed with two overlapping layers such that coverage was always maintained if one of the layers went down.  
  • Finally, the radio access network (RAN) was deployed using a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) rather than a small cell architecture. The DAS uses passive antenna components within the fabrication area, rather than the active components that would be part of a small cell architecture. The use of passive antennas reduced the risk of active components igniting a spark that could fuel a gas fire from the chemicals used in etching.

This case study demonstrates that Industry 4.0 mission-critical initiatives need private 5G networks to deliver on the promise of the Smart Factory. This semiconductor fabricator’s solution consists of a CTS Private 5G SA Network-as-a-Service offering, a fully managed service that includes design, build, run, and support. The network is fully on-premises, providing redundant deployment for mission-critical uptime.  

CTS provides custom, carrier-grade in-building and campus connectivity solutions for enterprises and mobile network operators, solving and managing the most complex networking challenges. CTS only provides one solution: the one that’s right for your business.

Opinions expressed by contributing authors are their own. 


Robert Cerbone

Robert Cerbone

Vice President of Product Management and Marketing, CTS

Rob is the Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for CTS responsible for their private wireless network offering. CTS provides custom, carrier-grade in-building and campus connectivity solutions for enterprises and mobile network operators, solving and managing the most complex networking challenges. Rob is a seasoned product management executive with over 25 years of experience launching new products and services in the telecom and wireless industries with Intelsat, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint Nextel.