BY Capgemini
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IT trends spotted and checked by experts


What happens

On 13 April 2016, Guillaume Pepy, President of the SNCF (the French National Railway Company), unveiled his "industrial internet" plan worth 500 million euros. The rail transport group will install hundreds of sensors in order to anticipate maintenance needs, inspect railway tracks and keep stations under surveillance. 

so what?

President of Intesens, a start-up that develops wireless sensors for industrial use.

Xavier Lafontan is President of Intesens. Based in the IoT Valley in Toulouse, this start-up develops wireless sensors designed for monitoring industrial machines and/or infrastructure from a distance...

Connected objects are not just limited to wristband activity trackers. In an industrial environment, sensors can show the state of a piece of equipment in real time, anticipate breakdowns, and create ever more efficient systems. In France, national rail operator SNCF is looking to deploy hundreds of thousands of these IoT devices.

How can the Internet of Things (IoT) be used in the industrial sector?

There are many examples. If we take the rail travel sector, the SNCF is currently installing a large number of heat, pressure and vibration sensors in order to monitor its infrastructure. By detecting abnormal variations we can anticipate these notorious broken catenaries which frequently delay traffic. These sensors can also be used to ensure that railway track points and level crossings are safe, as well as to inspect the state of tracks.  In stations, connected objects can reduce the amount of time that lifts, escalators, automated doors, air conditioning systems and lights remain out of order, by detecting faults sooner. These uses can be transferred to electric power grids, plane maintenance and nuclear power plants, or even smart cities. A train station is a small town, in fact. The issues are the same when it comes to street lighting, air conditioning, water drainage pumps or telecommunication systems. 

What benefits have been observed?

IoT lowers the cost of monitoring. No longer will it be necessary for real people to physically do the rounds in order to change broken lightbulbs. A digital box placed on the candelabra sends out an alert as soon as the level of light drop   s. This type of sensor is profitable year on year as it has a life span of between five and ten years. 

Once immediately alerted, a monitoring station can also be more reactive. When a railway track point is no longer receiving any electricity, the station can activate the emergency energy supply. This leaves four hours for maintenance teams on the ground to fix the problem. 

Finally, IoT, coupled with big data, enables predictive maintenance by carrying out a statistical analysis of a large number of pieces of equipment. By studying the operating cycle of batteries, we can identify those which are not largely used or, inversely, those which are in desperate need of recharging. 

What type of technology lies behind the industrial use of IoT?

The intelligent software is no longer found in servers but is now built into the sensors. The latter, which are therefore autonomous, send information every second and no longer every ten minutes. What's more, they are not connected to a GSM network but to narrow-band networks especially designed for IoT, such as Sigfox or LoRa. Their energy consumption is therefore thirty times lower. This increases their life span, which can now be counted in years instead of only months.

The cost is also lower as there is no need for sim card use, which can double or even triple the price of a sensor. Finally, subscription costs are now around a few euros per year and not a few euros per month. France is a few years ahead of others in terms of the industrial use of IoT: Sigfox and LoRa were developed here. The country has priority coverage.  

Who cares?

  All industries that possess an inventory of equipment or installations that need to be maintained in sectors specialised in aerospace, automobiles, public transport and water, gas and electricity supply are concerned. Wireless sensors allow for real time knowledge of the state of health of a piece of equipment, and enable us to evaluate their level of performance - their availability, their standby time etc. - and therefore to anticipate breakdowns. IoT also opens up significant possibilities in terms of product traceability, optimisation of the logistics chain and the creation of new services for customers. It is also one of the links in the future factory chain. The deployment of sensors on an industrial scale has become possible due to a drop  in costs. A vibration sensor with microcontroller, chip and built-in software can be purchased for under a dollar.    
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