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Putting 5G to the Test

Oct. 7, 2020
Orange, Nokia and Schneider Electric team up to trial 5G in specific uses cases within Schneider's French plant.

There is no question, the pandemic has shifted investment priorities and in many instances, put the brakes on investment plans. However, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to next generation technology. After all, digital technology shows significant promise not only in helping businesses weather the current environment, but also better positioning organizations to thrive whenever the new normal actually arrives.

Case in point? Schneider Electric and telecoms operator Orange recently announced the first deployment of indoor 5G in the industrial sector in France on experimental frequencies as part of a trial. Operating since March, this first co-innovation project in the Le Vaudreuil factory aims to use 5G in a modern industrial environment to build reliable, scalable and sustainable connectivity solutions for future industrial needs.

Thanks to its low latency, very high throughput and – over time – network slicing, 5G will be a competitive lever for companies, as it will bring noticeable improvement in industrial processes and working methods, especially through mixed reality (augmented and virtual). In the Industrial sector, 5G will help synchronize in real time large amounts of data, which are key to boost performance, facilitate remote working, and ensure optimal production efficiencies.

The industrial 5G trials will provide Schneider Electric a competitive advantage, as 5G will enable vast improvements in industrial processes and operations through capabilities such as low-latency, very high throughout and network slicing. 5G will also enable real-time synchronization of large amounts of data, which are crucial to boost performance, facilitate remote working and ensure optimal production efficiencies.

The indoor 5G-enabled trials will support two use cases: augmented reality applied to maintenance technician activities and the implementation of a telepresence robot for remote visits. Nokia radio AirScale and core equipment has been selected and the experimental frequencies have been allocated by the French regulatory authority. Five indoor 5G antennas were installed inside a part of the factory, covering close to 2,000 m2 of production space with download speeds beyond 1 Gbps, on an experimental network architecture allowing local data processing with edge computing technologies. Building on its co-innovation ecosystem, Orange has proposed to use the recently launched Dell technologies 5G-ready Latitude 9510 business PC to deliver these use cases. This allows Schneider Electric to benefit from the laptop’s embedded computing power, wherever the user is located.

When we launched the industry-first 5G SA commercial private wireless solution in July, one of the key drivers was to help accelerate the creation of a healthy industrial 5G ecosystem, and to do so will require significant validation and testing work,” Nokia’s Stephane Daeuble tells IndustryWeek. “This trial with Orange, and all others, we are conducting in that space, support this objective of enabling future 5G-powered Industry 4.0 advances. In addition, Nokia is increasingly recognized as the preferred B2B partner of operators for private wireless – where operators today are expanding their offering on top of their traditional strength in the B2B segment.”

Schneider Electric tells IndustryWeek, 5G is a technology enabling new applications for Industry 4.0. “We are at the beginning of the story of 5G, with some applications that we are testing, some that we don’t even know about. Overall, we are already deploying Industry 4.0 for ourselves and our customers, and see it as a fundamental topic for resilience, competitiveness and energy transition. We are constantly innovating to go further, and 5G is of course part of this story.”   

Understanding the use cases

In the first use case tested, the teams connected tablets to 5G using the Schneider Electric augmented reality application called EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor (AOA). This custom application improves operational efficiency with augmented reality, enabling operators to superimpose real-time data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine or entire plant. The objective with 5G is to test future functionality with minimum latency and maximum throughput.

Scalability allows 5G to support growing bandwidth needs and provide responsiveness. Operators using the AOA application via their 5G-connected tablet film a machine and access information about its status and future maintenance that are hosted in the cloud in real time. This helps reduce machine downtime and streamline maintenance operations, while minimizing human error. For example, temperature data from a coil winding machine can signal when it is overheating, and a part needs to be replaced.

Moreover, production data used by AOA are collected and processed in Schneider Electric’s micro data center solutions (such as Smart Bunker or Micro Data Center 6U Wall Mount), which locally power, cool and protect IT infrastructure. These “all in one” envelopes bring together power, cooling, and urbanization of servers in a secure place. They can support the roll-out of 5G on a new site with its new use cases (augmented reality, AI, IoT).

The second use case tested by Schneider Electric and Orange concerns driving an AXYN mobile telepresence robot using 5G to eventually arrange remote visits to the Le Vaudreuil site. The performance of 5G makes it possible for very high-quality video to be used with minimal lag time in the virtual interactions between the visitor and the Schneider Electric guide that accompanies the robot throughout the Le Vaudreuil site. A remote visit with high-quality video and audio will help minimize travel time and costs and, most importantly, reduce the carbon footprint while providing the end user with a unique experience.

The trial of these first use cases will help capitalize on Orange's and Schneider Electric's ability to jointly build and operate a state-of-the-art indoor 5G network in an industrial setting. More experiments will be developed to test technologies with strong potential, such as artificial intelligence, and thanks to future hardware and software updates to the network equipment.

According to Schneider Electric, “This trial is an excellent way to confirm our initial assumptions and validate our first use cases: augmented reality, telepresence and remote everywhere, etc. There are huge opportunities for 5G associated to edge computing (ie: cooling costs, low round trip latency), and we’ll get a lot of data from such trial to demonstrate it. Finally, it’s also an opportunity to imagine new use cases and opportunities with our employees on the field.”

“5G is a breakthrough technology for businesses that will bring numerous industrial applications, such as predictive maintenance, real-time video processing, augmented reality and telepresence. These use cases are powerful and competitive levers that will enable the full potential of Industry 4.0. To make the most of this new mobile network, operators, industrial players, public authorities and companies will have to work together. At Orange, we believe in a co-construction approach. Our co-innovation with Schneider Electric for the factory of the future is an example of this: We are poised to support our industrial partners in their digitalization and in the development of solutions that meet their needs.” said Stéphane Richard, chairman and CEO, Orange.

According to Nokia’s Daeuble, end-to-end integration and adaptation to the industry tools/environment are always key for 5G pilots in an Industry 4.0 environment. “Ecosystem partners need to adapt to industrial environments and use cases, and integrate to existing networks and specific performance constraints,” says Daeuble. “Fortunately, Nokia is building on its proven experience in private wireless solutions for asset-intensive industries, with more than 180 references, extensive range of industrial partners, and long-time relationship with leading B2B enterprise players.

"The health, economic and climatic challenges make digitization more important than ever for companies. The pilot conducted with Orange at Le Vaudreuil in a Schneider Electric industrial showcase validates many 5G use cases: augmented reality, remote everywhere, real-time access to data... 5G’s reliability, scalability and durability make it a connectivity solution well adapted to industry 4.0, for greater resilience, competitiveness and sustainability.", said Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric.

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