Transforming facility management with digital twins

By Pauline Bancourt and Benoit Bourdaire, Orange France; Sam Choi, 3i Inc; Danny Han, Orange; Jacques Hochberg, Orange Fab; and James Li, Orange Silicon Valley

The need to connect people and places

These days, we are not able to go everywhere but are expected to know everything. It has become increasingly difficult to establish, maintain, and access field conditions accurately for facility management due to distance, lack of resources, and travel restrictions. This is a challenge the Network Production Unit at Orange France faces frequently, especially during the pandemic.

The Network Production Unit is responsible for the upkeep of nodes of network installations in the Paris area. They work with technicians and suppliers all year round to develop infrastructure to support the connectivity needs of Orange customers, including cables, network equipment, air conditioning, and power. In the Paris area alone, Orange owns or rents around 700 locations ranging from strategic buildings to street cabinets. Project managers often move around those locations to conduct feasibility studies and to check operational performance. A group of project managers also take care of long-term worksites and travel to check ongoing construction.

The average round trip for checking a technical site is around two hours for project managers, with about an hour and a half spent on site for various feasibility and auditing purposes. Activities include observing the overall site configuration, checking available space for new equipment, mapping cable circuits, and updating site maps. Complex projects sometimes require two trips to the same remote location. These are not only time consuming for Orange project managers, but are also often done in tandem with suppliers. As a result, one visit may mobilize two full-time equivalent (FTE) workers for up to half a day. In addition, the commute results in undesirable fuel consumption and air pollution in a dense urban area.

The goal is to make these feasibility studies and audits easier and more efficient by providing up-to-date images of the remote locations, so that project managers don’t have to spend as much time commuting. Remote cameras may seem like a plausible solution, but they are not sufficient because they only provide a partial and non-centralized view of a site portfolio. Security cameras are good at one task – surveillance and detection – but are not suited for equipment status monitoring through IoT sensors, reporting, collaboration, or project management. The installation and maintenance of a security camera network in some locations, such as minor sites, is also not a scalable solution.

The startup accelerator that connected the dots

Orange Fab, Orange’s startup accelerator, is focused on growth and distribution opportunities. It offers select startups a program to develop their businesses and strengthen their management. The aim is to build commercial partnerships with Orange’s market lines and the market lines of its major group partners, in France and further afield.

In 2020, Orange Fab Asia launched a 5G Challenge targeting innovative startups that utilize 5G network to improve the society and economy, in preparation for Orange’s 5G service launch in Europe. The challenge was held in South Korea, which had become the world’s first country to commercialize 5G services for consumers in 2019. Out of 76 applications, nine startups were selected to participate in the final pitch and be introduced to global telecom partners.

3i Inc was among the finalists with its Beamo solution, a spatial intelligence SaaS platform for immersive facility management. Beamo captures the essence of 3D spaces in high-fidelity digital twins (or virtual tours). This not only streamlines remote inspections and collaboration, but also addresses environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns by helping companies reduce their carbon footprint.

Beamo provides a hardware survey kit, an iOS app, and a SaaS solution. When creating a site survey, the hardware survey kit aligns a supported 360 camera with an iPhone. The Beamo App on iOS aligns images captured from the 360 camera with location information from the iPhone, so that all images are mapped automatically onto their proper locations on the floor plan. As a result, the capturing process is fast and simple. At the end of the site survey, all the data is uploaded to the Beamo Portal cloud platform and rendered into a digital twin.

On the Beamo Portal, the digital twin can be augmented by placing Tags in a 3D Viewer interface (also called a 3D Workspace) and connecting them with web links, media files, and embedded dynamic web content. This enables intuitive and contextual presentation of live data, and control of real-world devices from within the digital twin. Furthermore, Beamo has two-way video call capability built in for people to collaborate remotely by meeting in the same virtual tour through video conferencing.

Orange Fab saw Beamo’s potential in improving operational efficiency for facility management. They see the solution as a good match for meeting not only the needs of the Network Production Unit in Paris, but also other Orange business units across different regions. Connecting the dots, Orange Fab worked with Orange Silicon Valley and Orange France for testing and proof-of-concept development.

Testing at Orange Silicon Valley

Orange Silicon Valley is a US subsidiary of Orange. As an innovation center, Orange Silicon Valley has been providing strategic insights, connecting ecosystems, and creating unique value by making US innovation and technology visible, accessible, and actionable for the Orange Group and Orange’s customers.

Orange Silicon Valley tested the Beamo solution by conducting over a dozen site surveys for their office space in San Francisco, in collaboration with the Beamo team from 3i, Inc. in Silicon Valley. During the site surveys, testers walked around the office space and captured images at all locations of interest. There was no need to follow a pre-defined path. For each capture, the survey kit is simply placed at the desired location and a button is clicked in the Beamo App. An “auto” option allows the app to capture an image automatically, adjustable from 1 to 20 seconds after the survey kit is placed on the floor, which further speeds up the process. In addition, the captures can be triggered by a remote control so that people conducting the survey can step out of the 360 camera’s field of view. At the end of the survey, the camera transfers all images to the iPhone, which in turn uploads them to the Beamo Portal for processing.

At the time of the site surveys, the Orange Silicon Valley office was spread across two floors, each about 20,000 square feet in size. In a typical test survey, where nearly 100 spots were captured within a floor, the processing time was about five minutes. In a real-world use case, it will likely only require 20-50 capture points for a site of a similar size.

A Digital Twin of Orange Silicon Valley

Beamo’s cloud portal supports the following functionalities:

  • Edit the digital twin. The survey results can be edited from the web portal. The floor plan can be annotated, repositioned and rescaled, images reordered, unwanted images deleted, faces and confidential areas blurred out and new images uploaded.
  • Explore the digital twin. Clicking on the captured spots on the floor plan, on arrows on the current image, or double-clicking in the desired direction can move the user around. They can also turn by dragging on the 360 image.
  • Add tags and comments to the digital twin. Comments can be used by teammates for collaboration and tags can be used to add information to the digital twin. This information can be associated with documentation, real-time data from IoT sensors, and the internet in general.
  • Do time comparison. This provides a side-by-side comparison of two surveys of the same place, conducted at different times.
  • Make measurements. This tool lets you ascertain the size, surface, and volume of any visible object or space remotely, directly from the 3D Workspace.
  • Record guided paths. This allows the user to record themselves navigating the digital twin for replay.
  • Meet with other users. This launches a two-way video call for users to collaborate and walk through the digital twin at the same time.
  • It is worth noting that the Tag function allows the user to access real-time data from within the 3D Workspace. The following screenshot shows live data from a plant sensor embedded into a Tag of the plant’s image within the digital twin, which is set to pop up when the user navigates near to the plant. In general, any web content (such as a YouTube video) that allows embedding in an inline frame (iframe) can be embedded into the digital twin. For any web content that does not allow embedding, the Tag function can provide a web link for the user to launch a new browser tab to explore the content.

    Embedding of Real-Time Info into the Digital Twin

    Opportunities at Orange France and beyond

    Beamo makes it easy to capture 3D spaces at scale using 360 images. It renders the images into digital twins, augments them with embedded web content (such as document, media, dynamic content from real-time IoT sensors), and facilitates collaboration through live virtual tours with teammates. This is suitable for applications that require fast, low-cost, and/or frequent site surveys. Some potential applications include facility inspections (such as cell sites and data centers), progress documentation (constructions and upgrades), remote maintenance (digitized routines and intuitive access to information), and immersive experiences (employee training and customer tours).

    In February 2022, Orange Fab France launched the first Data-AI challenge in partnership with Viva Technology, aiming to identify startups developing innovative and responsible solutions or technologies in the field of AI and Data, and to support them through a specific acceleration program. The data and AI revolution offers a unique opportunity to support the Orange Group’s growth, and to demonstrate its social and environmental commitments, which are a core part of its strategic plan.

    The challenge drew a strong response, with 262 entries received in two months. The Orange Fab France jury selected six startups whose solutions met Orange’s needs in a wide range of areas, from customer experience to operational efficiency, machine learning, and business intelligence. The main selection criteria included the business impact for Orange, ease of integration, and commitments to ethical and responsible AI.

    As one of the six winners of the challenge, Beamo was demoed at the Orange booth at the Viva Technology event in June 2022. Christel Heydemann, CEO at Orange, was among the visitors. Beamo also had the pleasure of welcoming many industrial leaders with diverse use cases and challenges to solve. Some examples included IoT integration and contextualization for water management, documentation for textile manufacturing lines, technical training for telecom technicians, inspection and staging for clothing retail stores, as well as the inspection of railway tunnels, technical rooms, nuclear sites, and cell towers.

    Equipped with positive feedback from Orange Fab and Orange Silicon Valley, the Network Production Unit at Orange France launched a PoC with Beamo in July 2022. Site surveys were conducted using Beamo for five technical sites in the Paris area. Each survey took between 20 and 40 minutes to complete. Project managers then used the site surveys to write up specifications for work items and inspect the results, without actually commuting to the work sites. While the PoC is ongoing, it is showing promising early results, with some daily inspection routines done in a matter of minutes rather than a couple of hours as they were before using Beamo. Some entire processes can now be done in a few hours with Beamo, in contrast to a couple of days previously. Furthermore, the PoC proved useful in producing high-resolution images with legible labels, asynchronously uploading data gathered in remote areas, and improving reliability between the field and IT repositories.

    Other common use cases of Beamo include asset maintenance, employee training, recording keeping, and project planning and management. To learn more about the collaboration between Beamo and Orange, please visit Fab France.