Masterclassing

British Sugar and Virgin Media O2 Business switch on private network

David Murphy

British Sugar and Virgin Media O2 Business have switched on a private mobile network, spanning four UK factory sites in Wissington, Cantley, Bury St Edmunds and Newark. The new private network will provide dedicated, secure 4G connectivity for all of British Sugar’s manufacturing facilities, as part of a major ‘Factories of the Future’ upgrade.

The custom-built private O2 4G network will connect multiple IoT (Internet of Things) devices, enabling British Sugar to introduce innovations such artificial intelligence (AI), automated production lines, robotics and drones.

AI will be used monitor operations in real time and predict maintenance and potential downtime in advance, to reduce disruption, cuts down on wastage and can deliver cost and energy savings – helping avoid unnecessary emissions.

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. As part of this, British Sugar will fully embrace the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, with more than 15 different digital manufacturing use cases in plan. The private network has been designed to be future-ready and 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 will include robotics to streamline production even further, automated (driverless) ground vehicles, and connected drones that can cover a large area and monitor tall structures such as silos and lime kilns remotely and safely.

“We have been very pleased to work with Virgin Media O2 Business to install and launch our private mobile networks, the first of which is now live at our Wissington site in Norfolk,” said Paul Hitchcock, Head of Factory Organisation at British Sugar. “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.”