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Glanbia to increase its manufacturing capacity with 5G network

Three and Ericsson show how 5G can be used on the plant floor for a richer analysis

A new strategic partnership between Three Ireland, Ericsson and Glanbia will see the dairy giant increase manufacturing efficiency through the installation of an indoor 5G network at the company’s largest Irish plant at Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny.

Three is working with Ericsson and Glanbia on the rollout to demonstrate how 5G can be utilised in manufacturing environments, developing further use cases which, in time, can be applied across a range of sectors. The 5G network solution will enable faster and more accurate maintenance tasks on the plant floor and will assist in problem solving, providing for richer analysis of plant processes and reducing manual administration.

“This initiative has been in the pipeline since 2019 when we got involved in the EU-funded Horizon 2020 programme,” says Michael Power, Glanbia Group manufacturing execution system manager. “Our task as part of the programme was to identify real world industrial use cases where we felt 5G might be a differentiator. So, in 2019 we sat down and came up with use cases around enhancing maintenance workflows using digital technologies.

“What we needed were easier ways to connect workers operating in difficult-to-reach industrial environments with data centre or cloud-based applications in a reliable and secure way,” he says. “We also have use cases around enhancing the plant data models by making more extensive use of wireless data collection methods. This will help us get relevant actionable information into the hands of those best placed to use it quickly and efficiently.”


Advance on 4G

According to Three head of enterprise and public sector Karl Duffy, 5G represents a considerable advance on 4G for manufacturing applications. “The bespoke opportunities and insights which 5G can provide to organisations and sectors is really exciting for us at Three Ireland, delivering a real step-change from 4G,” he says. “This is the first indoor 5G network of its kind in Ireland and will deliver real efficiencies for Glanbia. The opportunity is there for companies of all sizes to create a pilot and scale over time. The companies that act now will achieve first-mover advantage within their sector which can’t be underestimated.”

The creation of an indoor network is critically important. “When you’re dealing with a large factory like Glanbia’s in Kilkenny, which is in a remote location, with massive thick concrete structure walls externally and internally, you often need to help the mobile network serving the site getting from the outside into the building,” Duffy explains.

“So, what we did here is deploy an in-building mobile network using Ericsson technology and Three spectrum which recreated the mobile network inside the factory structure which ensures all corners of the factory are being serviced. This, in turn, means Glanbia has a world-class internal 5G mobile network to build its own use cases around with our support.”


5G connectivity is also central to the rollout of Industry 4.0, the term used to describe the transformation under way as a result of the digitisation of manufacturing.

“Digitisation is driving the smart automation of systems but that can’t work without telecommunications, and specifically in the case of Industry 4.0, without 5G mobile networks. What 5G offers specifically that 4G can’t is the ability to have focused and high-speed connections with low latency and massive capacity meaning huge volumes of data can traverse the network without any issues. 5G also enables you to create what are called wide-area low-power 5G networks which would be used to connect the thousands and even millions of IOT sensors. And, with Three, our customers have access to the fastest mobile network in Ireland and the fastest 5G network in the country as independently certified by Ookla speed tests.”

Industry 4.0 holds out significant potential for companies like Glanbia, according to Power.

“Industry 4.0 is a complex topic, but at a very high level the most significant potential we believe will be leveraging the data that’s available at every point in the supply chain from the farm through the processing facilities and into our distribution channels to increase efficiency, traceability and sustainability,” he says.

“Data is at the core of industry 4.0, making sense of this data, and putting it in the hands of an increasingly connected and mobile workforce in real time is the opportunity to be grasped and we believe 5G has a role in this.”

And Duffy points to other areas being explored with Glanbia. “We’re working with Glanbia on other use cases both inside the 5G factory and elsewhere in the company’s estate. This includes using the 5G network for augmented reality in order to perform remote FDA audits, creating a ‘digital farm’ full of sensors running off a 5G network enabling the likes of autonomous drones which can spray crops and so on. It’s pretty exciting futuristic stuff.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times