When it comes to Industrial 5G, multiple minds are better than one. Collaborations between network operators, corporates and those with specialised technical expertise will deliver industry-wide improvements, fast-tracking Industrial 5G development and adoption across the board. Nick Wright explores Digital Catapult’s recent work with Ericsson and two manufacturers to demonstrate the potential of 5G.
5G – it started as a bit of a buzzword in the mainstream, something many people only associated with smartphones, better signal and faster browsing on the move. In reality, 5G was designed with industrial applications front of mind, with benefits going far beyond those associated with the consumer rollout. This revolution in wireless connectivity could deliver enormous improvements to business processes – and ultimately, drive economic recovery from a pandemic that has sent ripples through our key industries.
A digital tapestry
We hear a lot about the fourth industrial revolution and its capacity to revolutionise UK manufacturing and supply chains. But how does Industrial 5G fit into this picture?
Real-time feedback and specialised equipment to make precise adjustments to products on the production line, augmented reality (AR) to enhance the capability of engineers and predictive maintenance tools, there is a wealth of applications that will all play their part in the future of industry. However, these tools are only as good as the technology that connects them.
With its promise of improved bandwidth, greater speeds and secure and customisable networks, 5G can boost the implementation of all of these – creating a rich tapestry of complementary technologies that in conjunction can help slash costs, boost efficiencies and reduce our carbon footprint.
Industrial 5G and financing
According to a report by ABI Research commissioned by Ericsson, the smart manufacturing market is set to grow to US$1tr by 2030. And here on our shores, over a 5-year period, a UK-based warehouse operator adopting cellular enabled Industry 4.0 technologies is predicted to realise a 13% increase in gross profit margin and an operational cost saving of US$220.9m.
That’s a return no one can sniff at. And yet, according to Digital Catapult’s Made in 5G report, one of the biggest challenges to 5G adoption is a lack of understanding around return on investment with 5G – with over 71% of respondents listing this as a key barrier to adopting the technology.
And for those that do accept 5G’s ability to boost their bottom line and want a slice of the pie, the challenge is normally tied to innovating with 5G technologies in the most appropriate and meaningful way.
On a global level, the UK is somewhat behind when it comes to embracing the use of advanced digital technologies in an industrial setting, with countries like Germany emerging as the current frontrunners in the race. To put ourselves firmly at the forefront of this revolution, 5G needs to grow quickly and sustainably – and large-scale collaboration is one of the ways industry can ensure their use of 5G bears fruit.
By joining forces, application vendors, equipment providers and industrial end users can explore real life opportunities, deepen our understanding of the impact of Industrial 5G and make the case for its rapid adoption. Partnerships like this can result in new opportunities to enhance existing products and services, and are a really important precursor to widespread adoption of 5G.
Industrial 5G in action
With this in mind, in 2019 a partnership between Digital Catapult and Ericsson was born – designed to drive accelerated adoption of 5G by UK industry and build confidence within this area. Using a combination of both Ericsson and Digital Catapult’s technological expertise, and Digital Catapult’s direct routes to industry, the partners set out to bring this technology to a wider audience.
The partnership between the two companies led to the creation of the Digital Catapult – Ericsson Industrial 5G Accelerator. Following industry outreach and careful selection, this programme involved explorative work with companies including Tharsus and Seagate.
At its core, the programme looked at de-risking the technology – tearing down the barriers to its successful deployment – by allowing those involved to explore 5G in different environments. As we have learned, many businesses struggle to create the business case for a technology with so many applications and Digital Catapult focused on helping the companies it worked with comfortably build the case.
From using Industrial 5G to wirelessly connect automation equipment in the factory to digital tools to predict future failures in the production process, these companies were able to understand the tangible results that 5G can deliver in terms of cost-cutting and downtime reduction.
A common goal
We still have some way to go before we can truly say that Industrial 5G is at the heart of economic growth, seamlessly integrated into our industrial processes.
This much we know: the Industrial 5G journey isn’t something we should go alone. Only by businesses coming together to test its capabilities – working towards a common goal – can the UK sow the seeds of a 5G-enabled future and become a global industrial powerhouse.
Ocado robots used by Tharsus.
Digital Catapult worked with Tharsus and Ericsson to determine a viable 5G solution. This involved creating a robot model that actively demonstrated the power and potential of 5G as a means of feeding large volumes of data to a backend server. It hosted an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm capable of object detection and was used for data processing and analysis of the streamed content. In order for this algorithm to be efficient and more accurate in object detection, a fast and reliable connectivity network, such as 5G, was needed.
Using Digital Catapult’s 5G Testbed, without having to invest upfront, Tharsus was able to obtain an in-depth understanding and first-hand experience of 5G capabilities, including its reliability, security, and latency, witnessing how its central AI/ ML algorithm could recognise objects more reliably with 5G connectivity.
Working with Seagate, Digital Catapult and Ericsson explored the concept of a 5G private network in Seagate’s Springtown facility. The value proposition needed to understand how the facility and plant infrastructure could be monitored more closely than current capabilities, and how future machine failures could be predicted.
The explorative work and value proposition estimated a potential 50% reduction in network wiring costs for massive sensor deployment across the factory, and a potential 15% reduction in unplanned events that could have a yield impact.
Iain Thornhill, Vice President, Service Providers & IoT, Ericsson UK & Ireland, said:
“Joining forces with Digital Catapult, we have been helping our key strategic industries deploy reliable, scalable 5G solutions to help them slash costs and boost productivity. With its potential to revolutionise industrial products and services, 5G must take centre stage as we drive forward economic recovery from the pandemic – and we want to see the UK lead this charge.”
More information www.digicatapult.org.uk
Dr Nick Wright is Head of Manufacturing Industries, Digital Catapult
Images courtesy of Digital Catapult
Featured header image courtesy of Depositphotos