British sugar installs private 4G network to automate its factories
Image credit: British Sugar
British Sugar has switched on “a first-of-its-kind” private mobile network running on 4G, which is designed to provide secure connectivity across its manufacturing facilities.
The custom network, which was built by Virgin Media O2, will be used by British Sugar to implement next-generation manufacturing techniques at all four of its sites, spanning three counties.
The network will connect multiple IoT devices, allowing for a modernisation of the production process such as the ability to use AI systems; automated production lines; robotics, and drones. The firm believes the network will help it to increase productivity, boost efficiency and even improve health and safety on site.
Following a multi-million-pound investment, British Sugar will create four ‘factory of the future’ sites, automating the manufacturing process for sugar and other co-products.
Part of this will be relying on AI to monitor operations in real time and predict maintenance and potential downtime in advance. This reduces disruption, cuts down on wastage and can deliver cost and energy savings that help to avoid unnecessary emissions.
The firm added that the 4G private network helps to improve security and control and enables high-bandwidth connectivity in a complex factory setting where introducing Wi-Fi is challenging due to a highly metallic factory environment with a requirement for both indoor and outdoor coverage.
The private network switch-on is part of a major smart upgrade to British Sugar’s factories, delivered through a seven-year partnership with Virgin Media O2 Business which has brought in Nokia as a strategic partner on the project.
The new network has also been designed to be 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 of 5G.
This could include robotics to streamline production even further; automated (driverless) ground vehicles, and connected drones that can cover a large area and can monitor tall structures such as silos and lime kilns remotely and safely.
Paul Hitchcock, head of factory organisation at British Sugar, said: “This work will help us progress in our ‘Factories of the Future’ project, using the latest technology to ensure that our sites are operating as efficiently as possible.”
Jo Bertram, managing director at Virgin Media O2 Business, said: “Announcing the switch-on of the first multi-site private mobile network is a huge milestone for us at Virgin Media O2 Business, but it’s also a significant step for British manufacturing as a whole, taking us that bit closer to Industry 4.0 and all the benefits this offers. Private networks like these are a big part of building the connected factories of the future, so British manufacturing can keep pace with the rest of the world.”
The 4G private network is now operational at British Sugar’s Wissington site in Norfolk, where the firm said that benefits are already being realised. The new private network will also provide connectivity across British Sugar’s other factories: Cantley in Norfolk, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and Newark in Nottinghamshire.
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