Antonio Ricciardi, Senior Innovation Partner, Digital Catapult, explains how the 5PRING programme has given local business a boost.
The West Midlands; famed as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, rugby and most recently, the BBC hit Peaky Blinders. More importantly, the region is also steeped in industrial heritage, known for its proud history of coal mining. And it remains home to some of the world’s manufacturing giants, from Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover on the automotive side, to Mondelez International for consumer products.
After two extremely challenging years, manufacturers like these are becoming acutely aware of the benefits of digitalisation to build and sustain resilience; in fact, 77% of manufacturing leaders have said that COVID-19 had made them more open to innovation.
The government has also now unveiled its ‘Levelling Up’ Whitepaper, in which one of its central missions is to grow the share of Research, Development and Innovation outside of the greater South East and the A spring in the step of West Midlands manufacturing famous Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge.
As a dominant force in advanced manufacturing, the West Midlands is a region ripe for digitalisation. And, paired with other advanced digital technologies, the arrival of 5G has unlocked massive potential for businesses and communities across the UK and the globe. Thanks in part to the 5PRING programme, the West Midlands (Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country), is today right at the heart of what this new technology has to offer.
Digital Catapult is part of the 5PRING consortium, the UK’s first 5G commercial application accelerator. Established in 2020, 5PRING has been working away to help organisations of all sizes harness the power of 5G to deliver growth and innovation throughout the West Midlands and beyond.
The 5PRING accelerator activities in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry for West Midlands 5G (WM5G), and 5PRING’s fully equipped and interlinked 5G testbeds, have helped to bring solutions out of R&D for testing as an early real-world deployment and can be used to grow market opportunities by showcasing new applications.
Over its lifecycle, 5PRING has provided bespoke masterclasses and workshops, free courses, partnering opportunities, access to technology and 1:1 sessions with world class business coaches and technical experts. By connecting organisations of all sizes to work on 5G use cases and bring to life commercially viable 5G propositions, 5PRING helps businesses of every type and size understand what 5G could offer them.
Working in tandem
In an industry still plagued by skills shortages, collaborations between start-ups and large businesses can be an excellent platform for sharing knowledge and insights, as well as ensuring alignment across research, start-up innovation and corporate growth. In fact, according to research from Digital Catapult, 73% of manufacturing leaders are making start-up collaboration part of their long-term business strategy.
Start-ups, being inherently agile, can bring a fresh and often more bullish perspective to larger corporations, while established businesses can unlock new scaling and revenue opportunities for small businesses. Meanwhile, many businesses often struggle to access, test and prototype digital technologies due to lack of skills, budget or know-how.
Working in tandem, enterprise organisations, start-ups, sector experts and technology providers can transform the way we live and do business, by generating joint 5G powered business opportunities. And, increasing the availability of 5G testbeds – platforms for conducting rigorous, replicable and accurate testing of new tools and technologies – is central to businesses being able to develop new solutions and methods at a low cost.
These elements were integral to the 5PRING programme, which has allowed businesses both large and small to unlock the value of 5G by building use cases, accessing 5G testbeds and developing commercial viability.
Unleashing the power of 5G
Digital Catapult is able to see how 5G can provide a whole new level of reliability and availability for businesses. Start-up Fine Energy developed Osmium as a real-time monitoring solution for a fleet of wind turbines that would become obsolete without remote access, control and diagnostic capabilities.
Used as a foundation for enabling the application of other advanced digital technologies – from artificial intelligence to immersive tools – 5G is already helping businesses cut costs, slash their carbon footprint and make significant efficiency gains.
This potential permeates all industries; from the live events sector, where 5G is starting to give rise to exciting new experiences for spectators, to transport, where 5G is improving services for passengers through smarter data collection and analysis. With this in mind, the 5PRING accelerator has run six different cohorts, cutting across different sectors and themes:
- Manufacturing: With partners including industry giants BAM Nuttall and BAE Systems, this stream helped develop solutions for challenges around plant operations and site/factory monitoring.
- Live Events: With partners including Formula 1, The O2 and AV equipment provider Creative Technology UK, participants have developed and scaled innovations to improve audience experience, venue management and interactivity of exhibits at events.
- Transport: Exploring 5G-enabled solutions to challenges from infrastructure monitoring customer experience, with participation from HS2, National Express and Transport For London.
- Smart Cities: In partnership with local leaders including Dudley Metropolitan Borough, City of Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Coventry Councils, start-up solutions harnessed 5G to create solutions for health and social care, public services and public safety.
- Construction: Focused on developing 5G solutions to create a safe, dynamic and sustainable construction industry – with partners including Ferrovial and Galliford Try.
- Green Innovation: This programme assisted small businesses developing cutting edge technologies that reduce carbon emissions – from energy and transport solutions to improving access to green spaces.
A 5G-enabled future Thanks in part to this West Midlands based initiative, more than 480 businesses have benefited directly from the 5PRING programme since it started, proving the benefits that 5G can bring to their organisation and working with innovators to take advantage of 5G through new applications and services. Over 700 organisations attended activities delivered by the 5PRING, with 130 benefiting from its accelerator programmes.
Infrastructure company Ferrovial has been trialling the solutions of two companies from the construction cohort and is also in advanced conversations with two companies to run pilot projects at their outdoor 5G network.
The programme has also resulted in BAM Nuttall selecting three companies for trial implementations on its outdoor 5G network in Scotland, while both BAE Systems and AE Aerospace continue to liaise with start-ups from the manufacturing cohort about potential future partnerships. By providing access to private 5G networks, businesses across the region have been able to experiment with features and test their commercial viability – ready to take to the next stage of development.
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