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John Deere boosts its wireless networks with the purchase of 5G licenses

John Deere’s manufacturing facilities are extremely complex environments that rely on automation and connectivity. 

“For example, Harvester Works in Moline, Illinois, is a tremendously large operation. A lot of information gets passed around in that facility that we have to translate,” says Craig Sutton, manager for advanced manufacturing and innovation, John Deere. “People may not realize how much Ethernet cable we have to run in order to ensure we bring together all of the data we use to build machines.”

While there are miles of embedded Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi points in their facilities, the company still faces limited flexibility for set up and upgrades.

“Currently, our factories have hundreds of connected devices, and we see that growing 10 fold as they adopt Smart Connected techniques and tools,” Sutton says. “These complexities can limit flexibility to change production lines to improve our manufacturing process and incorporate more technology right from the factory.”

John Deere’s recent purchase of 5G licenses in five Iowa and Illinois counties offers a solution. Part of the Federal Communications Commission auction for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service 3.5 GHz spectrum, the 10-year licenses will enable Deere to quickly leverage the latest manufacturing technology, which enhances the productivity of its machines. It also enables factories to more easily adjust as technology advancements in agriculture are developed and incorporated into equipment.

“These licenses allow us to minimize the amount of cables and small Wi-Fi networks that get stressed out,” Sutton says. “As we continue to move into Smart Connected manufacturing facilities, 5G allows for a more agile process. It gives us the ability to create a super-speedway of connected data inside our factories as well as between our factories and warehouses to improve automation and efficiencies.”

The added capabilities private 5G LTE offers will not only allow John Deere to leverage edge computing, analytics, and autonomous devices, but it also empowers a larger set of smart applications like real-time location systems, asset tracking, inventory management, wearables, building automation, and robotics to reduce its cost of operation.

Jahmy Hindman, John Deere Chief Technology Officer, adds that, “John Deere has always focused on how to empower customers to do more with less by using technology, and our focus on tech goes way beyond the fields. It impacts every single aspect of our business, and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve our own efficiencies and outcomes with it.”

Because the private LTE networks will enable Deere to design more flexible, nimble, and connected facilities, Sutton says it will transform the manufacturing process.

“It really started with a holistic strategy around how this really benefits not only our internal operations, but our customers as well,” he says. “When a farmer gets his machine, there is a tremendous amount of data we feel will be very beneficial for him or her that we’re now going to be able to provide. As a machine comes to life, having that digital footprint on every piece of equipment is a huge value proposition.”

5G will be implemented at John Deere manufacturing facilities in Rock Island, Illinois; Scott County, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; Polk County, Iowa; Black Hawk County, Iowa. The rollout is set to take place in 2022.

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