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Cross-Technology Collaboration – an Opportunity for CSPs to Evolve Their Role in Industry Digital Transformation Value Chain

by Guang Yang | Feb 06, 2021

Industry digital transformation is entering a new stage.

Since Industry 4.0 initiative was launched in 2011, major economies have embraced the concept. European countries, the US and China have launched the program to promote the digital transformation of industries. The COVID-19 crisis highlights the need to speed up the transformation. South Korea has initiated a 5-year Digital New Deal plan to lay the foundations for a digital economy that will spur economic growth and innovation. China launched the New Infrastructure Plan to construct new digital infrastructure across the country, which could offset the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and boost sustainable growth.China's New Infra Plan

Policy makers and industry leaders are defining the industry transformation vision for the next decade. The 2030 Vision for Industrie 4.0 was published by German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Three closely interlinked strategic fields of action are identified, including autonomy, interoperability and sustainability, that are crucial for a successful implementation of Industrie 4.0. In its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, China targets to achieve new industrialization and digital economy.  China will ‘promote digital industrialization and industrial digitization,’ and ‘strengthen the construction of digital society and digital government.’

These strategic initiatives provide new opportunities for industry players to improve their productivity and competitiveness and also suggest the need for cross-technology (X-Tech) collaboration.

Successful Transformation Requires Cross-Technology (X-Tech) Collaboration

Valin Xiangtan Iron & Steel is such an example of industrial digital transformation. Xiangtan Iron & Steel is a fine steel production base in South China and has an annual production capacity of 12 million tons of steel.

The working environment of an iron & steel plant is dusty, high temperature and highly hazardous, which often impacts on staff morale and results in low working efficiency. The environment also makes it challenging to connect all equipment and devices through a fixed network. At Xiangtan Iron & Steel, the production processes generate about 1 TB data per day that can be used to optimize production in real-time. Without the connectivity, the factory cannot leverage the data for optimization. Thus, the plant wants an advanced ICT solution to connect all equipment flexibly, to perform data analytics in real-time and to enable remote control of its production processes.

In July 2019, China Mobile Hunan Branch and Huawei launched the smart 5G steel plant project for Xiangtan Iron & Steel. China Mobile and Huawei worked together to deploy a private 5G network and provide the factory with a converged terminal, connectivity and cloud platform. China Mobile offers an annual subscription plan and is responsible for the commercial operations of public/private cloud services. By September 2020, 152 5G base stations and a set of edge computing platform have been deployed to achieve 450 Mbps uplink throughput and 20 millisecond end-to-end latency.

The infrastructure enables smart applications for the iron & steel plant, such as:5G for Smart Steel Plant

  • Centralised remote control of the overhead steel scrap cranes: Accurate real-time remote control with eight-channel HD video streaming
  • Unmanned crane in the slag bay: Equipped with cameras, scanners, rangefinder, and encoder.
  • Remotely controlled robotic arm in the steelmaking zone
  • HD video surveillance in hazardous areas
  • AR assisted production line assembly
  • Real-time equipment monitoring and analytics for predictive maintenance.

Xiangtan Iron & Steel has significantly benefited from the smart 5G steel plant project since it was launched. The overall efficiency of Xiangtan Iron & Steel plant has been increased by 30%. The productivity rose from 920 tons of steel per man year to 1300 tons of steel per man year. The direct profit increase is up to RMB 100 million, according to a Chinese media report.

These applications demonstrate how important the cross-technology collaboration is. To enable these use cases, not only 5G connectivity, but also cloud and intelligence technologies such as edge cloud, machine vision, data analytics, etc. is needed. In the meantime, these ICT technologies should be seamlessly integrated with the plant’s OT (Operational Technology), which requires the close collaboration between ICT specialists and industrial experts. For example, remote-control of continuous casting and slagging requires an integration of 5G connectivity, edge cloud-based data analytics, sensors and metallurgy expertise. Collaboration between CT, IT and OT technology is necessary to enable the application, while cross-technology collaboration often is complicated and challenging.

Information Technology (IT), Communications Technology (CT) and Operational Technology (OT) have existed separately, sitting in silos since the beginning of modern manufacturing. While IT and CT have converged to some extent and generally focused on data, information management and communications, OT has managed the operational side, controlling physical devices and processes. Collaboration and integration of ICT domain and OT domain will pose challenges to hardware and software design, production and information processes, data security, and even organizational culture. A horizontal integrator will be needed to coordinate all silos in ICT domain and OT domain to promote the broad collaboration between connectivity, data, cloud, intelligence and the industrial OT technologies in order to achieve the convergence goal.

Opportunities for Communications Service Providers

Industry digital transformation is a great opportunity for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to grow their business. First of all, industrial digital transformation requires a high performance and flexible ICT infrastructure. As a specialist of connectivity service, CSP can provide specific connectivity solutions for industrial customers, e.g., to support the large bandwidth in uplink and the high-precision positioning. CSP can also build the edge computing infrastructure for industrial customers. The collaboration between edge computing infrastructure and the connectivity infrastructure will build a strong ICT infrastructure for industry digital transformation.

Industrial customers also need a converged network and cloud platform for the reliable and flexible multi-cloud and hybrid cloud services and high-performance intelligence applications. Through internal development or partnership with specialists, CSPs have already the ability to deliver cloud services. As a result, they can integrate the flexible and agile network connectivity solution into the cloud service portfolio to form an integrated and efficient cloud intelligence capability platform for industrial customers.

The convergence of ICT and OT requires a collaboration across silos of ICT and OT domains. By leveraging their experience in managing complex ICT systems and dealing diverse suppliers, CSPs can coordinate multiple players and orchestrate the end-to-end value chain. This could allow CSPs to become the horizontal integrator and take a central role in the digital transformation ecosystem.  
CSPs Role

Through evolving their role from infrastructure service provider to capability platform provider and further to horizontal integrator, CSPs can move to the upstream of the value chain, get strong market position and expand the addressable market.

In the perspective of 2030, the global industry digital transformation will create a great opportunity for CSPs to grow their business. The depth and breadth of the X-Tech collaboration will determine how many opportunities a CSP can capture in the digital transformation market. We look forward to CSP joining forces to promote X-Tech collaboration to achieve long-term growth.

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