Meet the digital twin in our 5G Lab


At the opening of the 5G Lab in Liège, Orange showcased a digital twin of a robot that manipulates test tubes. So how does a digital twin work exactly and what are the possibilities? Our expert goes into more detail.

Plants and laboratories often use robots to automate industrial processes, whether or not in a sterile environment. When an operator has to solve technical issues, the robot’s activities are interrupted and the sterile environment is breached. Following maintenance, a technical acceptance test must be carried out and the room must once again be sterilised. As a result, it often takes several hours before the robot can resume its activities.

Digital twin

Wouldn’t it be much easier if both the operation and maintenance of the robot could be handled from a distance? A digital twin makes this possible. A digital twin is a virtual copy of a device or a service whose virtual behaviour is identical to that of the original in the real world. For instance, the impact of friction, temperature or light is just as noticeable in the virtual world as in the real world. Digital twins make it possible to monitor the exact movements made by robots and operate them without being physically present in the same room. “This way many problems can be solved remotely and production doesn’t have to be interrupted for such a long period”, says Olivier Nerinckx, Product Manager Device Industry 4.0 at Orange Belgium.

5G Lab in Liège

The opening of Orange’s second Belgian 5G lab in the iconic setting of La Grand Poste in Liège was the perfect occasion to illustrate how 5G can support industrial innovations. At the official opening, Orange showcased the digital twin of a robot that manipulates test tubes, which can deliver added value to the multitude of pharma and biotech companies housed in the Liège region. “This use case really is an end-to-end story”, Olivier Nerinckx emphasises. “Everyone talks about digital twins but there are many different facets involved. We contributed our 5G expertise but for the further development we worked closely with various partners.”

Instructions and simulations

In the 5G Lab an operator can visualise the robotic arm remotely with an AR headset, the HoloLens 2 by Microsoft. It shows the exact movements of the robot at that moment, together with an array of data including temperature, operating mode and error messages. Via the headset instructions can also be given to the robotic arm, for instance to stop a movement or to resume operation when issues have been resolved. Still, the operation of a digital twin is not one-way traffic. It is also possible to carry out simulations on the digital twin before implementing them on the robot for real.

“That is actually the biggest added value of a digital twin”, Olivier Nerinckx states. “For example, a pharmaceutical company that has to scale up the filling of syringes with vaccines can use the digital twin to determine the most efficient procedure. It takes much longer to test this in real time.”

Bandwidth, latency and quality of service

The digital twin places specific requirements on the network between the operator and the robot: high bandwidth, low latency (the time necessary to send data from one end point to the other) and guarantees of availability. The combination of these three requirements makes a stand-alone 5G network the perfect solution. The high bandwidth is important because augmented reality generates significant data volumes. This is because the robot’s 3D models are rendered in the cloud and subsequently streamed to the headset. The robot’s real-time sensor data are also continuously streamed to the operator.

Low latency between the robot and the headset is important to create a lifelike simulation for the digital twin. This is the only way to ensure that the image the operator sees is almost synchronous with the physical robot, enabling it to react quickly if something goes wrong. And finally, the robot and its digital twin use a dedicated slice of the stand-alone 5G network. This not only guarantees latency and availability but also prevents data from being sent over the public internet.


Would you also like to discover what applications like a digital twin can do for your business? The Start Walking 5G project will introduce you to the potential of 5G.

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