Drives and Controls Magazine
Trio develop a 5G alternative to control cables for hoists
Published:  28 February, 2023

Schneider Electric, Capgemini and Qualcomm have collaborated to develop a “first-of-its-kind” 5G-based system to replace wired connections – including control cables and video links – in industrial crane and hoisting systems. 5G’s low latency allows the system to replace fibre and copper cables for remote-control operations, simplifying networks, reducing wiring and providing reliable long-term connections.

Hoisting plays a critical role in supply chain and manufacturing operations, from automotive to steel manufacturing and shipping, where heavy materials and goods need to be transported over distances that can be hundreds of metres. These cranes have to operate in challenging industrial environments – for example, in extreme temperatures and over long distances – and operators often cannot see directly what a crane is doing, relying instead on radio communications or video feeds.

Hoisting systems need fast reaction times, high precision and reliability, and the ability to operate autonomously or under manual control. Several systems may coexist on the same network with PLCs being used for control and safety functions, and video cameras for monitoring and remote operation. At present, these connections are usually hard-wired and can be vulnerable to wear-and-tear as the cranes move.

Schneider Electric, Capgemini and Qualcomm have designed and installed a system at Schneider’s hoisting laboratory in Grenoble, France, that replaces wired connections for critical PLC controls and time-sensitive video links with a wireless 5G private network. The network operates in the 3.8GHz band, with an Athonet core network and Airspan small cells based on Qualcomm’s FSM 100 5G RAN platform. They claim that this has improved connectivity “significantly” and could open up new potential applications, such as such as AR (augmented reality), XR (eXtended Reality) and wearable devices for operators.

Fotis Karonis, group leader of 5G and edge computing at Capgemini, describes the hoisting application as “a good example of the added value of 5G for industrial communications” which “illustrates its potential to transform an industry segment. Advanced connectivity, 5G and edge computing technologies are strong enablers and accelerators for the move towards a digital economy and innovative use cases. They allow industrial clients to redesign systems and processes and make them more efficient, agile and intelligent.”

Schneider, Capgemini and Qualcomm have been testing their 5G-based alternative to cabling at Schneider’s hoisting laboratory in France

The three partners plan to pilot their 5G hoisting technology at end-user sites later this year. “In addition, in the short-term, we will validate more industrial 5G use cases in various discrete manufacturing, hybrid automation and process automation applications,” reports Marc Lafont, Schneider’s vice-president for innovation and upstream marketing. “In the mid-term, we will experiment with deeper integration of 5G technology inside our automation equipment.”

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