John Deere’s Strategic Shift to 5G Private Networks | Redefining Manufacturing

Explore how John Deere is systematically adopting private 5G networks, addressing challenges arising from rapid growth of industrial IoT and network limitations.

Introduction

In an era where technological advancements are not just luxuries but necessities, John Deere, a titan in the manufacturing industry, embarks on a transformative journey, intertwining technology and manufacturing in an innovative embrace. Through strategic investments and a forward-thinking approach, the company is navigating the waters of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and private 5G networksThis article delves into John Deere’s holistic approach to addressing connectivity challenges, ensuring robust data security, and envisioning a future where smart manufacturing is not a mere concept but a tangible reality. It is a detailed exploration into how the company strategically maneuvers through the realms of 5G technology, aiming to redefine manufacturing paradigms and enhance operational processes across its global factories.

Navigating the Network: Addressing IoT and Connectivity Hurdles at John Deere

One of the primary obstacles encountered in John Deere’s manufacturing facilities pertains to the burgeoning field of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT). With the expansion of connected devices and the anticipated proliferation of sensors on the shop floor—estimated to be 20 times the current number in the upcoming years—the existing connectivity solutions are under scrutiny. Historically, the infrastructure has relied on 70% ethernet and 30% Wi-Fi-connected devices. However, these traditional methods are now grappling with limitations in cost-effective scalability and capacity to handle the forecasted rise in connections.

Future Connections and Network Limitations

The anticipated growth in connected devices and data points is steering the conversation toward exploring other connectivity alternatives. Ethernet, despite its widespread use, presents challenges for cost-effective expansion. Simultaneously, Wi-Fi, although instrumental so far, is predicted to lack the requisite capability to support the envisaged surge in connections. These constraints have positioned private cellular networks as a compelling alternative and have propelled John Deere toward considering and implementing private cellular solutions.

Harnessing 5G: John Deere’s Strategic Journey from Spectrum Acquisition to Manufacturing Operations

John Deere has strategically invested approximately $546,000 to acquire 5 CBRS spectrum licenses, initiating a journey towards implementing private 5G networks across its global manufacturing facilities. The Priority Access Licenses (PALs) encompass locations in Rock Island County, Illinois, and four counties in Iowa, jointly hosting over 20 Deere facilities. This investment, particularly in a substantial 50 megahertz of wireless spectrum across five Midwest counties in 2020, signals a pivotal transition toward modernizing and elevating its expansive, over 3 million-square-foot factory where notable equipment like the X9 1100 combine is produced. This financial and technological deployment initiated a comprehensive plan to enhance factory operations through advanced IT and OT convergence, thereby illustrating a fusion of strategic investment and innovative application in manufacturing processes.

Use Case Exploration and Adoption

The subsequent years, 2021 and 2022, were dedicated to scrutinizing use cases within the factory settings. This pivotal exploration paved the way to 2023, where private 5G is not just a theoretical discussion but is being actively utilized with a production intent in the manufacturing facilities. For John Deere, the adoption of 5G goes beyond a technological shift; it is a strategy to enhance connectivity to accommodate growing use cases. The robust connectivity enables thorough data collection related to manufacturing processes and logistics, aiming to enhance operational efficiency and insights within the manufacturing sites.

Independent Network Development

John Deere has chosen a path of independent network development, with each private 5G network featuring its own onsite core and being devoid of connections to a public network. The networks, initially non-standalone 5G, are intended to transition towards standalone 5G through a structured development pathway.

Enhancing Operational Efficiency and Flexibility

The adoption of 5G is revolutionizing operational agility within its factories. While Ethernet cables have historically been pivotal for connecting factory equipment to the internet, the introduction of a cellular communication network is expected to preserve reliability while introducing enhanced mobility, thus providing increased dynamism in product movement throughout the factory (i.e., effortlessly reconfiguring workstations when products or plans necessitate change). This wireless transition is anticipated to save time and monetary resources by obviating the need for additional cabling, and Ethernet drops, thereby presenting a streamlined approach to reconfiguring manufacturing lines.

Implementing Wireless Tools and Data Retrieval

Numerous devices, spanning handheld drills to loaders, can transition between stations. Tracking these using wireless technologies ensures equipment accountability and helps prevent financial and time losses. A reliable wireless network, in this context, plays a pivotal role in enabling the extraction of more data from company equipment. For instance, sensors attached to welding equipment can provide data to train algorithms to identify optimal welds, thus intertwining manufacturing and data science seamlessly.

Facilitating Connectivity and Autonomous Operations

The introduction of 5G is reducing the Wi-Fi dependency within manufacturing units. The 5G network connects machine centers and hand tools, earlier connected via Zigbee, and permits the monitoring of manual tool operations, such as torque in human-operated tools. Furthermore, with 5G, connected robots and autonomous guided vehicles can operate dynamic routes based on real-time conditions, paving the way for more autonomous devices and machinery on the factory floor in the future.

Scaling and Strategizing John Deere’s Global Operations with Private 5G Networks

The decision to become a network operator has provided not only financial savings but also opened new use cases to enhance factory operations. The initial networks will serve as a foundational platform for scaling 5G to other factories within their PALs. Having the expertise and spectrum to operate its network inside the Moline plant autonomously, John Deere has set the stage for expanding this initiative to its other U.S. plants and is exploring spectrum deals in other countries like Brazil, Mexico, Germany, and India. Although collaboration with carriers is a potential solution, the definitive strategy for moving forward is still under deliberation.

Scaling Operations with 5G

As John Deere contemplates the upscaling of its operations, the focus is on navigating the shift from the current connectivity framework—70% ethernet and 30% Wi-Fi connected devices—to accommodate a projected 20-fold growth in IoT devices supporting the industrial IoT. The trajectory has been set toward a future where 80% of all connectivity within the factories will be facilitated through private cellular networks and private 5G as it evolves.

Connectivity Distribution Strategy

John Deere envisions a connectivity distribution wherein 80% is catered to by private cellular networks, particularly private 5G, as it continues to mature. A 10% share will be retained by hardwired ethernet, primarily due to the legacy equipment like laser cutters and machining centers, which have multiple-decade life cycles and are not amenable to straightforward modifications. The remaining 10% will be allocated to Wi-Fi connections. This strategy takes into account the nine billion devices created annually for Wi-Fi networks compared to one billion for cellular networks, ensuring that Wi-Fi maintains a presence in the manufacturing setup.

Ensuring Security in the Private 5G Network

John Deere staunchly prioritizes the security of its IoT data, leveraging the cellular network to enhance its security solutions beyond what has been achievable with wired ethernet and Wi-Fi networks. Implementing security features intrinsic to the system, such as SIM encryption strategies and dedicated International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) linking, ensures a robust security framework.

A vital aspect of the security approach involves creating an environment where similar ecosystems can interact securely. For instance, in the John Deere Harvester facility, communication is enabled between similar devices, such as welders, while restricting interaction with dissimilar systems, like paint systems. This ensures that traffic is directed aptly and enables better management of security within the environment.

John Deere’s 5G Vision for Future Smart Manufacturing

John Deere perceives the adoption of private 5G and private cellular networks not merely as a cost-effective alternative to traditional ethernet and Wi-Fi networks but as a comprehensive upgrade in its manufacturing infrastructure. While these networks undeniably offer a more economical operation compared to conventional cabling, viewing them solely as a cost-saving measure to replace like-for-like connections would be an underestimation of their potential.

Unveiling New Use Cases

The implementation of private cellular networks unveils a plethora of new use cases, particularly those involving advanced technologies like computer vision and machine learning. For instance, in the current scenario, every torque setting on the company’s largest combines, each consisting of eighteen thousand pieces, is recorded. If a worker assembles 12 bolts in a station, their adherence to the proper torque specification is monitored and recorded, aiding the construction of a digital twin. Moving forward, the integration of computer vision and machine learning will ensure that the right bolts are installed in the correct locations and are torqued accurately, ensuring a mistake-free manufacturing process.

Leveraging 5G for Enhanced Quality and Customer Experience

The future, as envisioned by John Deere, promises a customer experience characterized by exceptionally high-quality products, which they have come to expect from the brand. The meticulous and error-free manufacturing process, bolstered by 5G technology, ensures that customers receive a product of unparalleled quality, which is utilized in critical tasks such as food harvesting worldwide.

Active Implementation in Production Facilities

In practical terms, this vision is being brought to life in production facilities like the tractor assembly area in Waterloo, Iowa, where the largest 8R tractors are being built on a private cellular network. The facility operates with 20 devices connected to the cellular network for every one device connected to the ethernet network, validating the 80-10-10 connectivity strategy (80% private cellular, 10% ethernet, and 10% Wi-Fi).

Globalization of Network and Regulatory Navigation

The excitement extends beyond the North American facilities as John Deere gears up for its first installation in Brazil later this year, demonstrating the capability to globalize the networks initially built in North America. This involves navigating through various regulatory systems, such as the FCC in the U.S. and Anatel in Brazil, indicating a future where these advanced networks will be implemented across multiple continents.

Conclusion

In the evolving landscape of manufacturing, John Deere stands out by strategically melding innovation, investment, and technology to shape the future of the sector in the age of IoT and 5G. The company is systematically navigating towards adopting private 5G networks, addressing the challenges arising from the rapid growth of the industrial IoT and network limitations. With a firm commitment to enhancing operational efficiency, ensuring utmost data security, and discovering new use cases, John Deere is actively crafting a future where smart manufacturing, supported by 5G, is inherently integrated into its operations. As the company advances, its efforts provide a blueprint, highlighting the significant impact of 5G and IoT in transforming manufacturing environments, breaking down barriers, and facilitating a seamless integration of technology and production on a global scale.

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