INTERVIEW R3 – Reliable Real-time Radio

R3 – Reliable Realtime Radio Communications GmbH was founded in Berlin in 2015 and develops EchoRing, a high-reliability, low latency wireless network solution for industrial applications. EchoRing is built on a decentralized, “Token Ring” network concept – every station can both send and receive signals while holding a permission algorithm (token), thus preventing collisions and ensuring high reliability.

EchoRing delivers a level of transmission speed and reliability that can replace cables in industrial applications, a field known as Industrial Grade Wireless. The disruptive potential for this technology is huge, as a lack of cables greatly decreases weight (as well as fuel/energy costs) while greatly increasing operational flexibility. Innovative new business models and engineering layouts become possible as a result.

Reception to EchoRing has been excellent so far and R3 has expanded substantially in the five years since the company’s founding.

Easy Engineering: What are the company’s key focus areas?

R3: Currently, R3’s main focus and the majority or our clients are in smart manufacturing, intralogistics and aerospace. EchoRing is well-suited to applications such as machine platooning, mobile shop floors and wireless controls for aircraft and rockets. Clients in more specific fields such as hazardous environment safety and elevator/escalator manufacturing have expressed interest as well.

Industrial grade wireless is also still in the early adoption phase, so any number of unforeseen applications can emerge as we move further into the 21st century and Industry 4.0 takes hold.

E.E: Any new products for 2020?

R3: As a matter of fact, there are! R3 released the EchoRing Rollout Kit this past June. The Kit contains everything a user needs to set up, test and deploy an EchoRing network within an application. It contains five units of our flagship hardware product: the EchoRing Ethernet Bridge, as well as operational and setup tools such as the EchoRing Health Monitor and Performance Analyzer.

E.E: What are your product ranges?

R3: R3 offers EchoRing products in both the hardware and software ranges. While EchoRing itself is a 100 percent software-based and hardware-agnostic, we’ve found that offering first-party hardware products is very helpful to clients, as it spares them the cost of R&D on a new technology.

As mentioned above, R3’s flagship hardware product is the EchoRing Ethernet Bridge, available as part of the new Rollout Kit or individually to expand an existing network. EREBs are decentralized wireless nodes that plug into standard M12 Ethernet connectors, essentially functioning as a “wireless cable” when strategically arrayed in a network. R3 also offers the EchoRing System-On-Module (SOM) circuit board for deeper technology integration, as well as complete EchoRing reference designs to develop individualized hardware solutions from scratch.

EchoRing’s core software stack is also available (with development support) for integration into a client’s existing wireless hardware.

E.E: At what stage is your target market?

R3: Our key market phrase is Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It refers to increasingly automated processes run by “smart” technologies such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning. Practically all areas of manufacturing, logistics and heavy industry are headed in this direction, facing only a few barriers such as costs of retrofit and their own entrenched business models and processes.

Some fields like the automotive industry are already highly automated, yet can still be optimized further though Industry 4.0. Flexible and mobile business models can also be adopted to serve emerging market demands. These include individualized products (i.e. cars) at affordable prices or small businesses offering wide but small-scale product ranges, enabled by Industry 4.0 concepts like reconfigurable shop floors.

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?

R3: As mentioned, Industry 4.0 is headed into full swing, especially now in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. Companies are looking to reduce operational costs and automate and streamline their production process as much as possible, while at the same time minimizing physical contact between workers.

Online shopping in particular is booming like never before due to the pandemic lockdowns, creating a huge demand for warehouse automation. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are a key component of this sector, and increasingly require reliable wireless networks to both operate and scale effectively to meet demand.

When it comes to market saturation for industrial grade wireless networks, EchoRing’s primary competitor, of course, 5G. Despite it getting the spotlight in discussions relating to IoT and Industry 4.0, 5G’s key disadvantage is that it requires complete infrastructure and process overhauls. This is a daunting prospect even for large corporations, and is often completely out of reach for smaller companies. EchoRing’s key market edge meanwhile is its ease of adoption. It was developed from the start as a PnP (plug-and-play) solution compatible with existing infrastructure and industrial standards.

E.E: What are some of your most innovative products?

R3: Our most innovative product is EchoRing itself. Development began in 2007 with a vision of an industrial-strength wireless network, evolving over the years into the market-ready product that R3 was founded on. A specific EchoRing product we’d like to highlight however is the EchoRing Health Monitor. The Health Monitor comes packaged with the Rollout Kit and takes the form of a computer tablet that monitors network metrics like signal strength, bandwidth and interference levels, allowing the user make adjustments where necessary.

What makes the Health Monitor innovative is that it’s a good case study for the role human workers will increasingly play in Industry 4.0. Industrial workers will be less heavy equipment operators intensely focused on one machine and task and more supervisors concerned with process optimization of an entire system.

E.E: What are your estimations for the rest of 2020?

R3: We predict that R3’s sales will increase, thanks in part to the release of the Rollout Kit, our ongoing web-seminars and product campaigns and the support of our partners like [Arrow Europe], with whom we are currently preparing an exclusive distribution contract. The future is still somewhat uncertain however, due to unpredictable factors such as sudden border closures and political instability. That said, a large market demand certainly exists for industrial grade wireless due in part to the online shopping boom mentioned above.