Eventually the dedicated 4G network will connect four ‘factories of the future’, deploying AI, IoT and drones
British Sugar and Virgin Media O2 Business have switched on the first part what they describe as the first multi-site private mobile network of its kind in the UK at Wissington in Norfolk (pictured).
The plan is to automate the manufacturing process for sugar and other co-products using a secure 4G network that enables the use of tech including IoT, robotics, automation and health & safety drones.
The network is the result of a multi-million-pound, seven-year partnership expected to increase productivity and efficiency, and improve health & safety and security.
O2 delivered the private network in partnership with Nokia to provide connectivity to four British Sugar factory sites that span Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire – a total operational area of 2.17km2
AI will monitor operations in real time and predict maintenance and potential downtime to reduce disruption and wastage and produce cost and energy savings – helping to cut unnecessary emissions.
Using a 4G private network also gives greater security and control, and enables reliable high-bandwidth in a complex factory setting where Wi-Fi is challenging (due to the amount of metal in the environment) but a requirement both indoors and outdoors.
Over the seven-year partnership, British Sugar intends to fully embrace an Industry 4.0 ecosystem, with more than 15 digital manufacturing use cases.
The infrastructure is described as “easily upgradable to 5G where necessary”, as British Sugar looks to introduce more complex processes that will benefit from the higher speeds and lower latency.
This includes robotics to streamline production further, automated ground vehicles, and connected drones that can cover a large area and monitor structures such as silos and lime kilns remotely and safely.
Nick Smalley, Programme Manager at British Sugar commented, “During testing we were encouraged by the early results…and as we have begun to roll out the targeted priority use cases to our users, they have been quick to feedback the time savings they have seen – with new plant commissioning, plant testing and day-to-day diagnostic processes being highlighted in particular.”
The new private network will eventually provide connectivity across British Sugar’s other factories at Cantley in Norfolk, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and Newark in Nottinghamshire.