‘All the capabilities to be a front-runner’ – OBS and the SI model for Industry 4.0
Note, this article is continued from a previous entry, under the headline: ‘A “different beast” in the telco pack – often it’s not about 5G at all, says Orange’. For the first instalment, go here.
We should rewind, and hit play again on the Safran deal, announced late last year, to see how Orange Business Services (OBS) has orchestrated the brass and strings in this new Industry 4.0 score. The OBS solution combines tracker tags from French firm ELA Innovation, network gear from Finnish outfit Quuppa, and a management platform from UK-based. OBS is providing an “integrated software platform” on top, it says, which it has “adapted” for the task. But, as discussed, it is providing nothing in the way of traditional cellular inputs.
The setup with Safran (“a world leader in its domain; making helicopter and aircraft engines”) covers the 15,000-odd BLE trackers and 250 BLE antennas, installed across two production sites in and around Paris, which measure 55,000 square metres (in Villaroche, an hour’s drive southeast of the capital) and 20,000 square metres (in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, on the outskirts), respectively. The solution enables Safran to pinpoint the location of industrial tools and engine parts – “remotely and in real time” – to an accuracy of around three metres.
This is where OBS and co have “push(ed) the limits of the technology,” as Emmanuel Routier put it last time out. “It is a real time location system,” says Routier, vice president of Industry 4.0 at OBS, describing the industry terminology (RTLS; also real-time tracking system) for the primary use case at the Safran facilities. RTLS use cases, by definition, require higher positional accuracy than afforded by GPS or cellular radio (or Wi-Fi) triangulation, and also dictate lower-power transmission technologies to support higher-density (and longer-life) volumes of tracking tags.
As discussed before, low-power wide-area IoT tech (NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRaWAN, and so on) will not cut it (and often get bundled as a backhaul carrier for remote RTLS systems). Often, and increasingly, short-range Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is picked for the task, although radio frequency identification (RFID) and ultrasonic ranging are common too. OBS went with BLE, and cherry-picked ELA Innovation and Quuppa, as RTLS specialists, to provide the devices and networks, respectively.
It played the system integrator (SI) role, getting the band together for the gig, fine-tuning the system for the venue (with Quuppa), and making sure the show goes without a hitch. The (interview) tape gets scrambled, but the gist is the location accuracy needed to be good enough, and also smart enough, to track at least 15,000 tools and parts in 75,000 square-metres of complex industrial space. Routier remarks: “We needed to make sure it was very accurate. Because the signal can bounce [off metal infrastructure] and also needs to travel a long way.”
He adds: “We put the ecosystem together to fix the challenges – the size and complexity of the venue, the demands of the use cases. The Villaroche site is huge, and the tools being tracked are pretty small, and really valuable. Accuracy is important – not to half-a-metre, when it’s right next to you, but we are talking 10,000 tools in Villaroche, and the right one is needed at the right time. The other site, a bit smaller, is about [engine] maintenance, and [the system is being used] to track spare parts – so you don’t confuse parts when you dismantle a broken engine.”
UK-based Ubisense is providing the management platform for all the tags and data; but OBS has tweaked some of the settings, it seems, to introduce elements of predictive analytics (“dashboarding”) into the industrial IoT tracking mix. “It’s important, as well, to know where tools are in order to recalibrate them. And there’s an interesting case to correlate production processes and localization data – to know how often they are being used, and to schedule their maintenance. Because some could be used more than others.”
However, the real business for OBS, once the solution has been scoped and installed, is in its ongoing provision. “More than that, we are responsible end-to-end for the service to work,” says Routier. It will bring in and swap out suppliers, as required, he says. “Other use cases will use other suppliers. We will always go with the best technology for the use case. And with this one, we could change it, by the way – you know, should we find something more efficient. We could work with someone else. But at the moment, it is state-of-the-art.”
He adds: “The Safran project is huge. It’s an industrial environment. It must be rock solid. And it’s a good proof of our capabilities to address the industrial market. We face all the challenges and fix them – on our own, or with partners. But we are the one in charge; we are the one that is customer-facing.” With a hop and a jump, the conversation quickly gets back into private 5G for Industry 4.0 – as another (higher-profile) digital-change platform, and one Safran may yet migrate to with OBS – and the nitty-gritty of system integration and management.
Does OBS expect to take charge of run-phase Industry 4.0 networking, post-sell and post-build, for 5G, as it is here for a single-case BLE-based RTLS system? Because, of course, the private 5G market remains in its infancy, and the big-ticket run-phase appears to be up for grabs, with specialists network vendors, system integrators, and cloud providers in contention. “We are going to be competing for that. Are we going to always win? No, not always; we accept that, and it’s already the case,” responds Routier.
“But it’s a new domain, where we were not present before. I mean, private cellular is coming from the TETRA and DECT markets, where customers sometimes have their own network teams. Obviously, private 5G is a bit more complex to maintain. And we have seen customers which started out wanting to handle the run part, which are now handing over to us.
“So we are competing on those deals, working with network equipment partners – which are good partners, with which we have good references. And the pie is growing significantly; there are other competitors, obviously, and new ones coming as well. But we will do everything possible to be the front-runner. And we have all the competencies and all the expertise to be a front-runner – in the build phase as well as the run phase.”