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5G in the Plant

Schneider Electric provides example of private wireless strategy

Last month, NTT Ltd. announced a collaboration with Schneider Electric to deliver "Private 5G (P5G)" – an on-premise private network solution and digitization enabling platform that reportedly "can dramatically advance digital solutions in the manufacturing environment."

The long-standing partnership between NTT and Schneider Electric builds on existing joint strategic innovations that help clients achieve efficiency and sustainability goals with advanced digital processes within the Industry X sectors.

Interestingly enough, this gives Schneider flexibility and presents tough choices. Schneider is able to resell this private 5G access, along with its capabilities, something it is opting to handle differently than some of its similar contemporaries like Bosch and Siemens.

Zach Nimboorkar, senior vice president for global IT infrastructure and operations at Schneider Electric, recently described where the technology stands in terms of the French firm's 800 factory locations worldwide, conceding that it isn't perfect, but that it has enormous potential. Nimboorkar specifically mentioned mechanical conveyor systems as a "pain point" that is difficult to integrate with the Cloud and 5G, during an interview with James Blackman of Energy IoT Insights:

“We are in exploration-mode with 5G," Nimboorkar told Blackman. "Private 5G is still maturing; it still leverages a lot of the traditional transport-to-backhaul traffic from the manufacturing plant to the cloud provider, to Azure or AWS, say. We are still using the same corporate software-defined transport network to carry data from the factory 5G network into the corporate IT network, which then takes it to its destination in the cloud."

Schneider Electric's Lexington plant is home to a high-tech pilot program.—Schneider Electric photo

The P5G platform is being piloted at Schneider’s Lexington Smart Factory (pictured, and see video above!), the first of Schneider Electric’s U.S. plants to become "a Smart Factory showcase site leveraging IoT connectivity, Edge analytics, and predictive analytics to drive energy efficiency and further sustainability goals," according to a March press release. Being implemented in a plant that's been around since 1958, the P5G faces a useful test it can use as a template. This includes power key use-cases that solve challenges around equipment availability, machine performance, and product quality. For example, the companies will integrate ‘machine vision’ capabilities (industrial cameras with specialized optics) into existing factory and warehouse automation systems, that identify faults as well as wear and tear for incident root cause in near real-time.

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