25 January 2022
While 5G networks continue to be rolled out across all of France and the number of connected objects owned by people skyrockets, what is the impact of this technology on the future of French industry?
5G is the hot topic of conversation right now, and it has been rolled out across France for over two years now, but what actually sets it apart from previous communication standards?
Firstly, it’s all about speed. 5G networks promise speeds 20 times faster than 4G networks with peak performance reaching 20 Gbps. It’s the combination of this increased speed – enabling virtually latency-free data transmission, in the order of milliseconds – and reliability almost equivalent to that of wired networks (99.9999%) that make 5G a disruptive technology for manufacturers and local and regional authorities.
This is the first time since the advent of new forms of communication that wireless communications have become as robust and fast as very-high-speed cable. 5G networks enable real-time communications between different human–machine and machine–machine interfaces. The 5G communication standard is helping revolutionize the range of applications of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), from delivery robots on production lines to connected sensors on electricity and water networks.
5G is disruptive in its deployment. It simplifies wireless networks. Instead of creating meshes of on-site Wi-Fi hotspots, installing a simple 5G antenna can provide the same coverage while reducing the number of source connections, even across several floors. It is also the first cellular technology that approximates IT, so there is no longer a need to be a telecommunications engineer to install a 5G network. Finally, from a security standpoint, it offers the opportunity to work on closed and private networks.
However, the development of the French 5G industrial network is being slowed down by the prohibitive costs of allocating private bands and higher frequencies.
The factory of the future won’t just look different; the whole way it is organized will be turned upside down by the arrival of new technologies such as robots, smart production lines, and augmented reality. 5G will underpin this development as it enables it to be deployed securely thanks to its reliability and speed.
When we talk about production lines, the first image that comes to mind is Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ from almost 100 years ago. Fortunately, industry has come a long way since then. Until very recent times, the be-all and end-all the factories were long semi-automated production lines as seen in the automotive, Agri-food and assembly sectors. Now, factories can be equipped with more-flexible production lines that allow them to adapt more quickly to market conditions.
The emergence of 5G and the increased number of robots in factories, additive manufacturing, and the creation of smart and adaptive production lines offer manufacturers and their customers the possibility for the mass customization of their products. This simple reconfiguration of production lines is possible thanks to wireless connected devices that can be quickly redeployed throughout the factory.
But the most powerful impact of these new practices is to be felt in reduced costs and increased competitiveness by enabling limited production runs for their customers. The increased adaptability and flexibility of production lines enable manufacturers to reduce their production costs and, by extension, offer the products’ users higher quality at a lower cost.
The transformation of our factories also has repercussions on human resources. The job done by our workforce is changing with the installation of robots that help eliminate mentally and physically exhausting tasks, redeploying them in more interesting and higher-added-value jobs.
Let’s look at a real-world example. A few years ago, on an assembly line of electronics components, the components had to be manually counted using a crank system. It was a full-time job with a high turnover rate. By installing a robot that counts and classifies the components when they arrive and then another that routes them onto the production lines, three employees can be reassigned from the production line, which means production can be increased whilst maintaining the same number of employees.
5G in conjunction with augmented reality makes it possible to develop new and more-agile training methods. Wearing these special goggles, technicians can see an overlaid image of the position or the missing components to be assembled. In addition, ensuring that your employees are well trained also reduces the risk of workplace accidents.
Thanks to 5G and the parallel development of smart fabrics, we can contemplate a future where workers’ overalls will enable data about their state of health to be uploaded in real time and, in doing so, proactively anticipate the needs of workers on production lines.
Lastly, with its low latency and high speed, 5G enables live access to experts. The growth of video calling in the economy skyrocketed during the various lockdowns, from video conference medical appointments with your GP to after-sales services. Video calls have also arrived in factories: the use of video calls allows experts to act quickly, offer an initial prognosis and give live advice all while staying at their workplace or home. 5G also enables an expert to work on a machine in real time and carry out work on an actual production line remotely.
Industrial 5G has the potential to revolutionize the way of working at production facilities.
For several years now there has been talk of Smart Cities and Smart Territories, but what lies behind these terms? With the notion of Smart Cities, physical sensors are associated with digital environments, enabling data to be fed back and processed, and offer concrete actions – sometimes in real time – to network administrators. Smart Territories are based on the same principle, but include the towns, cities and regions around them in order to optimize the networks that connect them.
And this is where 5G comes into its own.
Its many benefits enable the development of new solutions to optimize and manage traffic, water and electricity networks.
Mobility is one of the priorities for metropolitan areas and regions. Well-managed mobility has many positive spillovers for both users and the environment. The possibility of improving traffic flow, the ability to integrate new forms of mobility (bicycles, scooters, etc.) into existing systems and the emergence of autonomous public transport are solutions made possible, amongst other things, by 5G technology.
In this context, LACROIX has joined the consortium led by WaltR – a specialist in air quality monitoring and stimulating pro-environmental behaviors – and ALSATIS – an architect and operator of 4/5G public-initiative networks – around the 5GREEN MOBILITY project, which aims to deploy a set of air quality diagnostic devices capable of activating different traffic regulation strategies.
5G promises communications between physical and embedded sensors, thereby enabling data exchange between a traffic light, a bus and a tram, for example. This type of connection has the capacity to improve traffic flow and optimize user journeys whatever their choice of mobility.
LACROIX’ City activity and LACROIX’ Innovation Lab are trialling Smart Crosswalk, a connected solution comprising a set of sensors and integrated artificial intelligence software all connected to a traffic light controller. Thanks to the data generated from these sensors and processed locally via our embedded algorithms, the Smart Crosswalk solution makes it possible to gather statistics on the profile of users driving around an intersection and becomes a decision-making tool: traffic flow can thus be improved, encouraging the use of soft mobility, for example. It is a solution that meets the anonymity requirements of the GDPR and has quick and easy implementation in terms of works and installation.
We want to be able to identify the number of occupants on roads (pedestrians, bicycles, cars and buses) in order to develop appropriate scenarios to be activated for different situations. Rennes Metropolitan Area is giving us the opportunity to test our uses in real situations and improve their efficiency.
V2X (vehicle-to-X) or V2E (vehicle-to-everything) technology is one of these solutions that make it possible to precisely determine vehicles’ positions and optimize the operational time of public transport to limit waiting times for users. V2X is also a necessary step in the implementation of autonomous vehicle projects. Indeed, the future development of autonomous transport requires access to real-time and anonymous data.
Another primary concern for metropolitan areas is optimizing the management of their electricity and water networks.
Installing 5G solutions provides a better understanding of networks in real time, offering network operators the possibility of being both proactive and reactive. Being able to determine the presence of leaks or directly control water pressure are two types of data that enable faster action to be taken.
This is the case for the Smart Water Network offer being implemented by the Environment activity, which aims to develop a 5G platform, a secure and sovereign end-to-end solution for the improved remote control and monitoring of water networks, resulting in significant savings whether in terms of resource consumption or costs related to installation and maintenance works.
Ultimately, industrial 5G offers the possibility of revolutionizing mobility usage and our way of working. In France, its implementation is being driven by the France Relance recovery plan through subsidies, and it will enable the deployment of new technologies such as edge computing and the implementation of AI within our infrastructure, whether industrial or territorial.