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How the industry is manufacturing a 5G future

The next industrial revolution

A recent survey by Nokia and ABI Research revealed that 74% of manufacturing decision makers are looking at upgrading their communications networks by the end of 2022 – with more than 90% of those investigating investment into the use of either 4G and/or 5G technology.

Of course, the survey – which took place ahead of the outbreak of COVID-19 – is still indicative in 2020. Amidst ongoing disruption, the challenge of transforming productivity is now more important than ever. New technologies including 5G will have the potential to enable manufacturing to recover and position the industry for future growth.

Around the world, manufacturers are steadily beginning to shift from fixed-line connections to wireless network infrastructure, ushering in the Industry 4.0 era. Notably, of the more than 600 manufacturers surveyed, over half said 4G/5G will be necessary for future business critical operations.

Industry 4.0 – the fourth Industrial Revolution – is already starting to emerge, though. Factories reliant on connected devices and automation technologies such as artificial intelligence are fast becoming the norm in manufacturing. The factories of the future will no doubt need to work fast and more efficiently, to provide cost savings, sustainability and increased outputs. It is their networks that connect them and drive this efficiency, which is why 5G is starting to prove so pivotal for manufacturers.

5G and manufacturing

5G’s increased capacity (ability to support thousands of devices on a factory floor at once), low-latency (ability to connect high volumes of devices in real-time) and enhanced security (through private networks which securely store data locally and can be managed on-site rather than in the cloud) make it ideal to support manufacturers to transform productivity. This opens up endless possibilities for advancements such as predictive maintenance, virtual reality and augmented reality.

Predictive maintenance is pivotal to manufacturing success. The real-time monitoring of machine performance over 5G can reduce unplanned downtime and outages on production lines. Malfunctioning machines waste time, money and materials across all types of factories. Problems are often only spotted late in the production line when sub-standard products are noticed but with 5G-enabled machinery, this can be prevented.

Sensors can relay performance data to an artificial intelligence interface, monitoring signs such as temperature, vibrations, audio output and respond accordingly. The impact of this technological enhancement is a continued workflow at optimum performance, a reduction in reactive fixes and crucially, scheduling engineers only for the most urgent work.

It therefore goes without saying that the ability to predict impending failures and mitigate downtime is incredibly valuable. Ultimately, with 5G-enabled machinery, manufacturers will be able to optimise maintenance routines in real-time, extending the lifespan of their equipment and avoiding unnecessary disruption for their business.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) also present new possibilities for manufacturers. The technologies are helping to make processes more efficient and are capable of changing the scope of manufacturing for years to come. According to PwC, a third of manufacturers will have adopted – or will adopt – virtual or augmented reality in the next three years. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the need for remote working may well have hasted this process as the use of AR and VR technologies can, in some cases, illuminate the need for travel.

VR allows for a virtual 360-degree view of a factory floor and in some cases, the ability to interact with that virtual reality. Thanks to advancements in connectivity and the low latency of 5G networks, activities such as remote training or remote engineering are now possible. Shared-reality headsets might allow an expert to guide a non-expert through a machine repair, for example. The benefit of this is an immersive training experience across the workforce and faster problem solving without the travel costs.

AR differs in the sense that factory workers would be required to be at a specific location to augment their experience of reality or wear specific equipment to facilitate this process, such as 5G-enabled goggles or glasses. One instance where this might prove helpful is the ability to overlay AR blue-print designs onto a physical subject and propose changes to a design or piece of machinery. Thanks to 5G’s real-time data transfer, this can also be done collaboratively and remotely with colleagues further afield, meaning true collaboration can be achieved without the need for unnecessary physical travel of goods or people.

Ultimately, having more data or information about the task in hand will inform better manufacturing decisions. VR and AR on the factory floor will drive new efficiency gains and transform manufacturing.

The West Midlands leading the way

The Worcestershire 5G Consortium – chaired by Mark Stansfeld, the newly appointed chair of West Midlands 5G – consists of a team of both 5G and manufacturing experts. Over the last couple of years, the testbed has secured £25m of Government funding to explore several Industry 4.0 uses for 5G technology. This has spanned from preventative maintenance with robotics, to big data analytics and AR over 5G.

The Midlands is home to 20% of UK manufacturing and some of the region’s most revered businesses, including Worcester Bosch and Yamazaki Mazak have been involved in the scheme.

As of February 2019, both the Bosch and Mazak factories had a private 5G network set-up alongside a private 4G network in their respective factories. Four Industry 4.0 related uses have since been trialled, covering condition monitoring, visual monitoring and augmented reality.

As a result, Mazak was able to clearly illustrate a potential productivity return of 2% through the use of AR, which reduced the cost of customer service and helped to improve customer experience. Meanwhile, Bosch expects a 1% increase in plant efficiency. These may seem like small increases but those fine margins can reap large rewards when factored across many workshops.

Videos outlining each of the trials with Worcestershire Bosch and Yamazaki Mazak are available below:

 

Mark Stansfeld, Chair of West Midlands 5G, said: “UK manufacturers have faced many challenges in the past year, with prolonged uncertainty over Brexit, and now the outbreak of COVID-19.

“5G is a proven enabler that can deliver significant productivity gains, allowing manufacturing to be the engine of growth for UK plc.”

The Worcestershire 5G Consortium also proposed a new way to commercialise manufacturers’ new 5G-enabled factories – ‘machine as a service’. By selling time on machinery, rather than the machines themselves, and through trusted, dedicated networks, manufacturers will be able to reap the rewards of selling machines on a subscription basis. This is only made possible due 5G enabling machine flexibility.

In turn, this will help smaller providers in experimenting and developing new products, without the usual capital expenditure for very costly machinery, which is then under-utilised.   Costs are typically upwards of £500,000 for manufacturing equipment, so this provides small manufacturers with a significant saving.

The consortium also recently launched a Skills Report, highlighting the need to upskill the next generation in 5G applications and services, to continue the growth of advanced manufacturing. For those interested in finding out more, the report can be accessed here. Further questions should be directed to enquiries@wlep.co.uk

Over the coming months, West Midlands 5G will be providing the opportunity for organisations to experiment and drive manufacturing innovation using its new 5G application accelerators, known as 5PRING.

5PRING is here to accelerate 5G innovation and provide a place for organisations of all kinds to innovate, grow and thrive with 5G.

Organisations looking to test, prove and scale new 5G services – or those who would benefit from an introduction to 5G technology – should register their interest with 5PRING.

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