Manufacturers and the 5G evolution

Posted on 3 Feb 2021 by The Manufacturer

The fourth industrial revolution will be empowered when 5G is meaningfully adopted in production settings, predicated on early adoption and scalable deployment. Dritan Kaleshi from the Digital Catapult explains more.

5G is the next evolution in mobile connectivity. Its adoption will form the backbone of the fourth industrial revolution, helping to transform key sectors of the UK economy. In addition it will boost the uptake of other emerging, transformative digital technologies, such as IoT and artificial intelligence, with the potential to contribute up to £14.8bn 5G-enabled revenue potential for the UK.

5G will enable digitalisation solutions aiming to lower costs, grow margins, increase quality, reduce time to market and greatly improve delivery times. Its ability to underpin other technologies, such as IoT and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), form a key part of cutting edge projects, for example the 5G Factory of the Future, a £10m public/private investment in a 5G industrial testbed led by the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), with BAE, IBM, Miralis and MTT.

As technical authority lead and coordinator for 5G integration on this project, Digital Catapult is helping demonstrate how 5G can create significant reductions in defects and waste through real time monitoring; enhanced machine utilisation and energy saving through digital twin track and trace; and a big reduction in travel and maintenance times brought about by shared ‘hybrid reality spaces’.

The benefits of early adoption into key sectors

The opportunity to accelerate purposeful 5G adoption in the UK is not one that should be passed up lightly. It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the UK’s manufacturing sector. At the same time the industry is grappling with the major global challenge of reaching net zero by 2050 and figuring out how technology can help to achieve that.

The combination of these forces means that innovation and collaboration have never been more necessary, and the technology capabilities to enable this in communications, computing, AI and IoT are ready for exploration.

The fifth generation of mobile communication technology is the first to be designed to address multiple different use cases simultaneously, from asset tracking to closed loop robotics. In principle, 5G is able to connect an entire factory floor. Through 5G’s lower latency and its higher capacity to create a ‘network of networks’, entire factories can become more efficient, reducing the number of missing or mislaid parts that can result in costly production delays.

A number of trials are currently under way around the UK to prove the value of 5G in an industrial setting and draw out the benefits ahead of a wider business roll out of the technology.

5G Journey_Digital Catapult

Production optimisation: From design to production, 5G will enable manufacturers to scale in-factory optimisation deployments across entire sites and multiple sites. This use case cluster encompasses all processes that occur in a physical environment controlled by the manufacturing company, including the factory floor, offices, warehouses or outdoor sites. As mentioned previously, a 5G network can be set up as a private network.

Digital Catapult is playing a critical role across many of these projects, building the testbed facilities that will allow for testing and development, providing the technical know-how to help organisations, large and small, to determine how 5G can help grow and improve their business, and providing support to the government as it continues to roll out ambitious plans for wide scale 5G adoption.

More importantly, the Industrial 5G Coordination project with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is ensuring collaborative cross-project technical and innovation activities of several DCMS-funded industrial 5G funded projects.

This linkage enables better, sustainable sharing of knowledge and dissemination of learnings, not just among the project teams but also to the rest of the UK manufacturing ecosystem, working closely with UK5G in this process.

“The potential that 5G offers is too great for enterprises to ignore as it develops and grows. The opportunity to become early adopters in such a revolutionary technology does not come around often”

The Industrial 5G Accelerator, a partnership between Digital Catapult and Ericsson, has demonstrated conclusively 5G’s unrivalled capability and versatility to address critical business needs.

Working with Ericsson, Siemens, Seagate and Tharsus, a thorough business case analysis for a number of use cases in specific contexts was undertaken. As reported by the programme participants at the Connected Britain 2020 conference, 5G is estimated to deliver 12 months’ ROI with 8-10 times return over a five-year period, accompanied by a 2% increase in overall equipment effectiveness and 1% operational cost savings.

The challenges focused on improvements for productivity, flexibility and connectivity in an industrial setting, with 5G-powered technologies such as robotics, AR, condition- based monitoring, asset tracking and predictive maintenance considered as solutions.

5G and the supply chain_Digital Catapult

How to deploy 5G in industrial environments

Exploring how to deploy 5G in industrial environments will allow companies a chance to understand how a private, scalable and high performing 5G network within a factory environment could provide a solution for manufacturers of all sizes, enabling new business models and helping to deliver new services for customers.

The versatility of an industrial 5G network means that there are significant opportunities for many different stakeholders within the manufacturing space, from improved products and services through the adoption of new networking technologies to brand new connected solution offerings.

“A number of trials are currently under way around the UK to prove the value of 5G in an industrial setting and draw out the benefits ahead of a wider business roll out of the technology”

Organisations that are interested in understanding how to take advantage of these offerings can often require some degree of guidance and this is where places such as Digital Catapult come to the fore. With expert advice and hands-on help, companies large or small are able to explore how to exploit 5G and its deployment within their businesses to the fullest.

Ensuring the provision of an infrastructure that can be adapted to many industrial applications

UK manufacturers, as in other parts of the world, can often struggle to innovate and adopt digital technologies. The presence of a standardised advanced digital infrastructure is particularly key as this will allow it to become scalable across large factories and a variety of locations.

The Made Smarter Tech Accelerator is one example of the work that is being done across the industry in an effort to inspire the new industrial revolution and support the vision of making the UK a global industrial leader by 2030, creating and exporting advanced digital technologies to shape how the world does business. This is achieved through a match-funded programme that allows for large businesses to develop challenges that can help digital integration within their industry.

The potential that 5G offers is too great for enterprises to ignore as it develops and grows. The opportunity to become early adopters in such a revolutionary technology does not come around often; the chance to play a key role in kick-starting the fourth industrial revolution in the United Kingdom is one businesses should embrace as they look to grow and sustain into the future.

More information

Dritan Kaleshi is Director of Technology – 5G, Digital Catapult

*Header image courtesy of Depositphotos; all other images courtesy of Digital Catapult’s report, Made in 5G: 5G for the UK manufacturing sector