5G industry news Acceleration & Innovation

5G for Manufacturing: Measuring the financial gains

  • 9 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 7 Feb 2022
  • Last modified 2 Feb 2022
In the first of a new series, former Editorial Director of The Manufacturer, Jonny Williamson, explores the potential economic impact of 5G by showcasing how the technology is already benefiting industrial businesses.

5G has the potential to add £126 billion to the UK economy between 2021 and 2025, and create or transform up to 2.7 million jobs.

More specifically, the adoption of 5G could add as much as £6.3 billion to the value of the UK manufacturing industry. That’s more than the total manufacturing output of Northern Ireland.

Crucially, that £6.3 billion isn’t a one-off cash injection. It’s every year. Money that could be spent on building new facilities, upgrading equipment, creating jobs and developing future.

Box out for Manufacturing piece

Big numbers have become part and parcel of every 5G conversation; the only thing that seems to change are the figures themselves. Some estimates put the added value to industry closer to £6.1 billion, other say £5.2 billion.

Accounting semantics aside, it’s clear that 5G represents a significant economic opportunity. But where will this additional value actually come from? How does a manufacturer go from investing in a new mobile connectivity to seeing a sizable uptick in its bottom line?

The short answer is speed. The faster goods can be designed, made and shipped, the faster they can be sold.

The more complex and nuanced answer is that every stage of manufacturing is ripe for improvement: 

  • New product development
  • Prototyping
  • Sourcing raw materials and components
  • Production (scheduling, processing, assembling, finishing)
  • Inspection and quality control
  • Packing
  • Distribution
  • Maintenance and servicing

Each of these areas will benefit greatly from the introduction of 5G, both as individual processes and as part of a connected operation. But don’t just take my word for it.

Businesses across all four nations of the UK are currently involved in projects focused on making the benefits of 5G technology a reality.

Over the past five years, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has part-funded 34 Testbeds and Trials projects with more than 200 delivery partners.

These projects span sectors where the UK already has a competitive advantage, including high-value manufacturing, scientific research, healthcare and the creative industries.

The three industrial case studies below illustrate just some of the ways in which 5G will generate a balance sheet boost for manufacturers and the wider UK economy.

Discover more via UK5G’s dedicated 5G and Manufacturing resource hub


The village of Warton in Lancashire probably isn’t where you’d expect to find a futuristic manufacturing facility, yet BAE System’s Factory of the Future is truly a first-of-its-kind facility.

Inside this fully connected digital factory, current and emerging technologies are working in partnership with an adaptable and digitally minded workforce to demonstrate the future of military aircraft production.

This experimental hub is the result of a multi-million-pound investment and collaboration with more than 60 blue chip and SME companies, along with academic institutions.

The goal is to create a truly flexible production environment capable of switching between building a new fighter jet one day to small volume unmanned vehicles the next.

Numerous systems have been incorporated to realise this goal, from artificial intelligence and 3D printing to smart sensors and augmented reality. However, the factory has been designed to be more than just the sum of its parts.

The connectivity between these systems, machines, robots and human operators is ultimately what will create a new and revolutionary approach that will drive additional productivity, pace and affordability into the manufacture of next-generation combat aircraft.

5G is providing the connectivity that links each asset and system in the factory together, offering the ability to capture manufacturing data from the start of the process right the way through to completion. 

This provides myriad benefits, but something sure to be of interest to all manufacturers is how it has led to the development of Intelligent Work Stations and Robot Assisted Assembly techniques.

Off-the-shelf automotive robots typically work to an accuracy of about half a millimetre. Military aircraft demand much tighter tolerances, less than a third of the width of a human hair in some cases.

Robots have been paired with a precise system which monitors the processes being performed in real-time and makes the minute adjustments in position when needed. This has resulted in a more efficient, cost effective and flexible operation.

Manufacturing agility is further increased by replacing traditional fixed cells with robots that can be reprogrammed to perform different tasks on different aircraft as required.

BAE Systems’ Intelligent Work Station has been developed in collaboration with The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Fairfield Control Systems.

The digital work bench features ‘pick by light’ technology which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions during the sub-assembly build process. This helps to make learning faster and more effective, and minimises process deviations.

The work station also has a sensor-enabled collaborative robotic arm. This allows a worker to make strategic decisions while delegating repetitive driven tasks which require consistency to the cobotic arm. This allows engineers to focus on highly-skilled tasks, adding greater value to the operation.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Greater adoption of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) could raise productivity in the UK manufacturing sector by up to 22%

– Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy


The trail-blazing work being undertaken at Warton is part of the £9.5m 5G Factory of the Future programme. The two-year initiative aims to demystify 5G and overcome the barriers associated with deploying the technology in industry.

The project draws on the expertise of manufacturing, telecommunications and academic leaders including the AMRC (project lead); BAE Systems; Digital Catapult; IBM; telecoms provider AQ Limited; logistics specialist Miralis Data, and Machine Tool Technologies (MTT).

5G Factory of the Future is investigating five industrial applications, each of which could be applied to almost any high-technology manufacturing environment. I won’t explain them all, you can read more about them on www.5gfof.co.uk, but I will highlight one area.

What if the health and performance of every component in a machine could be monitored in real-time?

Most maintenance performed on industrial equipment is either reactive (carried out after a breakdown has already occurred) or preventative (after “X” number of days, weeks or months).

The cost of having a machine down can quickly become eye-watering. Unsurprisingly, many businesses have adopted a preventative approach, despite its tendency to cause lengthy and unnecessary maintenance or functional parts being replaced prematurely.

Anther downside to preventative maintenance is that parts are only identified as needing replacement on inspection. Unless a replacement is immediately available, the result is further downtime and cost.

Predictive maintenance, or condition-based monitoring, uses data analytics and machine learning to pinpoint when a piece of equipment might fail so that corrective action can be taken before the point of failure. 

Predictive maintenance has been around for several decades, but the concept has always had limitations. These include the number of sensors, machines and assets that can be connected, how reliable that connection is, and how quickly information can be processed and acted upon.

5G provides the increased capacity, greater reliability, ultra-low latency and enhanced security required to realise factory-wide condition-based monitoring in real-time.

To demonstrate this, the 5G Factory of the Future project is monitoring high speed manufacturing processes by placing sensors on high-throughput equipment such as CNC machines.

Data from these sensors is being used to improve problem detection, insight and efficiencies and reduce operational cost and quality defects. In some cases, it can also trigger automatic remediation in a form of ‘closed-loop’ system.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Unplanned machine downtime is costing the UK manufacturing sector more than £180 billion every year, an average of £31,000 per company

– The Manufacturer


Small and medium-sized enterprises make up around 99% of all UK businesses, and more than half of UK business turnover. As such, they play a vital role in accelerating the uptake of 5G technologies. The 5G Testbeds and Trials programme recognises this and many of the projects are led by or involve SMEs.

AE Aerospace is a high precision engineering business with an ambitious growth strategy. In 2021, it became the first UK SME to deploy a 5G private network, supported by government-backed initiatives West Midlands 5G (WM5G) and Worcestershire 5G (W5G), and technology partners BT and Ericsson. 

AE Aerospace is trialling 5G in three areas, one of which is helping the business to unlock new business models and revenue opportunities through its vision of a ‘Glass Factory.’

More and more manufacturers are branching into selling services as well as products. The concept, pioneered several decades ago by Rolls-Royce with its ‘Power by the Hour’ business model, is seen as a way of climbing the value chain and forging deeper customer relationships.   

Traditionally, AE Aerospace sold components, but its USP lies in how those components are machined. That realisation led to a shift from selling finished parts to selling the means of manufacturing.

High-quality wireless 5G and sensors have been installed across the factory floor to enable wireless connectivity between machines, allowing high volume data capture. The ability to understand production flows and machine time utilisation is what is enabling AE Aerospace to sell machine time to customers.

Its Glass Factory has three stages:

  • Enabling a customer to view where their parts are in the manufacturing process via an online portal.
  • Enabling a customer to influence the order of operation. If their orderbook suddenly changes, for example, they can independently change which parts are produced first.
  • Enabling a customer to be in complete control of ‘their’ cell on the shopfloor – an extension of their own facility, effectively.

Additionally, the data capture provides real-time condition monitoring for each machine, meaning the business can very accurately project when parts will be finished and where there is available capacity or a bottleneck.

As Peter Bruch, managing director of AE Aerospace, explains;

Having long-term relationships with customers and knowing how many machining hours they require means we can reduce the price per hour, and therefore the price per component. The customer benefits and we have stability in terms of our cash flow and margins, it’s a win-win.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Manufacturers that offer services alongside their existing products are realising business growth of up to 10% a year

– Aston University

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