John Deere’s Transition to Private 5G Networks: Insights from Jason Wallin

Watch John Deere's innovative shift to private 5G networks in an interview with Jason Wallin. Learn about their strategies to overcome connectivity challenges in manufacturing, enhance operational efficiency, and implement robust security measures.

Q: Can you introduce yourself and your role at John Deere?

Jason Wallin: I’m Jason Wallin, the principal architect for infrastructure and operations at John Deere. My role involves overseeing the design of hosting solutions and the necessary communications technologies for our factories, logistics centers, data centers, and cloud hosting environments.

Q: What are the main connectivity challenges John Deere faces in its manufacturing facilities?

Jason Wallin: The primary challenge we’re facing is the growth of industrial IoT and its implications for future connectivity. Historically, our setup has been around 70% Ethernet-connected devices and 30% Wi-Fi-connected devices. However, we’re finding it cost-effective to expand our Ethernet, and Wi-Fi isn’t capable of supporting the number of connections we anticipate in the future. We expect to see a 20-fold increase in the number of sensors on our shop floors in the coming years, which has led us to explore private cellular networks as a solution.

Q: How is technology, specifically private 5G, improving operations at John Deere’s manufacturing sites?

Jason Wallin: We began exploring private cellular and 5G networks around the time of the CBRS auction in 2020, where we acquired spectrum in five counties with significant manufacturing presence. Over 2021 and 2022, we focused on developing use cases within our factories. Now, in 2023, we are actively using private 5G networks with production intent in our manufacturing facilities. This technology allows us to provide the necessary connectivity for our increasing use cases, enabling us to collect more data about our manufacturing processes and logistics flows.

Q: What steps is John Deere taking to transition its large-scale operations to a Private 5G Network?

Jason Wallin: At John Deere, we’re fundamentally shifting our approach to connectivity in response to the rapid growth of industrial IoT. Our strategy involves transitioning from our current setup of 70% Ethernet and 30% Wi-Fi-connected devices to a future where 80% of our connectivity in the factory will be through private cellular networks, including private 5G. This shift is essential to accommodate the 20-fold increase in IoT devices we anticipate. We plan to maintain 10% of our connectivity through hardwired Ethernet, mainly due to legacy equipment with long life cycles, like laser cutters and machining centers. Additionally, we expect that another 10% will remain Wi-Fi-connected, considering the vast number of Wi-Fi devices produced annually compared to those for cellular networks.

Q: Can you discuss the security measures for John Deere’s private 5G network?

Jason Wallin: Security is a top priority for John Deere, especially concerning our IoT data. Our move to a cellular network allows us to implement a more robust security solution than what we’ve had with wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks. Key aspects of our security strategy include SIM encryption, dedicated IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) matching, and device-specific connections. These measures are integrated into our manufacturing facilities’ cellular infrastructure, ensuring best-in-class security for our operations.

Q: How does John Deere envision the future of manufacturing with the help of 5G technology?

Jason Wallin: At John Deere, we see the integration of 5G technology as a transformative step for the future of manufacturing. This vision extends beyond the basic cost savings from infrastructure changes. While it’s true that private 5G and cellular networks are more cost-effective compared to traditional Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks, focusing solely on these cost savings would be an underestimation of the technology’s potential.

The real game-changer lies in the new use cases that 5G enables, particularly those involving advanced technologies like computer vision (CV) and machine learning (ML). For instance, in our current manufacturing process, we meticulously record every torque setting on our largest combines, which comprise around 18,000 pieces each. This level of detail is crucial for building our digital twin models.

Looking ahead, the integration of CV and ML into our manufacturing processes promises even greater precision and quality control. For example, in a scenario where a worker assembles bolts at a station, not only can we ensure that each bolt is torqued to the correct specification, but we can also verify that the right bolts are installed in the correct locations. This advancement in technology will enable us to achieve a virtually mistake-free manufacturing process.

Ultimately, this level of precision and quality assurance is what our customers expect from John Deere. It’s about delivering an exceptionally high-quality product that our customers can rely on for critical tasks like harvesting food for the world. The implementation of 5G technology is a key factor in continuing to uphold and enhance this standard of excellence in our manufacturing processes.

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