With a recent study finding that 74% of manufacturing decision-makers are considering upgrading their communications networks by 2022, it’s clear that 5G has a leading role to play in the future of the industry. But how can 5G change the face of manufacturing and engineering in the next few years and beyond?

We are beginning to see the dawn of a fourth industrial revolution, with factories embracing connected devices, automation and artificial intelligence. This opens the door to a world of possibilities, but it also requires strong, reliable connectivity to power these new technologies.

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.

This is particularly important in the West Midlands, with its strong manufacturing heritage. Our region is strong across manufacturing sectors including aerospace, automotive, pharmaceutical and food, earning its title of the Midlands Engine.

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Faster, reliable and wireless: 5G is the gearshift that can change the way the region’s manufacturing companies operate. The Worcestershire 5G Consortium – chaired by Mark Stansfeld, also the 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. For example they have been supporting manufacturing organisations with trialling:

  • sensors to monitor machine performance and reduce unplanned down-time through predictive maintenance,
  • remote controlled robots to reduce risk to workers by performing hazardous or difficult tasks for them,
  • virtual reality tools that allow a 360-degree view of a factory floor, or using shared-reality headsets to train workers virtually,
  • augmented reality technology, giving users the ability to overlay blue-print designs onto a physical subject,
  • secure data sharing along the supply chain.

5G and manufacturing in action

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 trials.

Bosch and Mazak have private 5G networks set-up alongside a private 4G network in their respective factories and these networks have been used to trial technologies covering condition monitoring, visual monitoring and augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) also present new possibilities for manufacturers.  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.

Check out our section on Worcestershire 5G to find out more on their trials.

WM5G is committed to support innovation in manufacturing – an industry which contributes significantly to GDP of the West Midlands. The goal is to achieve productivity improvements through 5G-driven trials. Building on trials with Bosch and Mazak in neighbouring Worcestershire, WM5G is partnering with regional LEPs and private sector organisations to potentially secure funding and launch a 5G manufacturing testbed in the West Midlands.

To find out how West Midlands 5G can support you in streamlining manufacturing processes, get in touch here.

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