1. Please tell UK5G about your business.
The MTC was established in 2010 as an independent Research & Technology Organisation (RTO) with the objective of bridging the gap between academia and industry across the UK. We are based in Coventry but have a presence in Liverpool and Oxfordshire, too. Our primary focus is the development of manufacturing systems and we work within a range of sectors including aerospace, defence, rail and infrastructure to mention a few. We pride ourselves on technology development, research, innovation, skills and customer experience delivery. It is also important for us that we work directly with businesses to address operational challenges before they begin considering state-of-the-art technology.
2. How important is digital connectivity for MTC?
Incredibly significant! It enables us to do our jobs and assist the industry in its digitalisation journey. We offer technical support through digital engineering, with connectivity being a key for interlacing manufacturing: this enables us to innovate around systems development. Our focus in digital connectivity, until recently, has been about overcoming data and protocol challenges and adapting solutions for multi-technology connectivity and interoperability.
3. Have you trialled 5G yet?
Yes. Currently, we have a private stand-alone 5G network within our Coventry workshop which relies on the capabilities of 5G network connectivity and edge-computing. Our engineering teams are working on the integration of devices for the deployment of an experimental demonstrator which is an automated inspection system that features robotic vision technology. This first use case focuses on two key capabilities of 5G: latency and bandwidth. Another aspect that we are looking at trialling is the handover capabilities over the 5G network for more robust navigation of mobile robots across workshop areas.
4. What have been your initial observations?
In broad terms, 5G technology will enable us to do great things. It is really promising, especially with the current focus on private networks. It facilitates robustness, reliability and a greater sense of security, which is a common weakness in wireless connectivity solutions for manufacturing processes. There have been substantial learnings that we aim to share once we complete our first 5G use case demonstrator. Collaboration across multi-disciplinary areas is crucial, particularly merging communication networks, information technology and manufacturing technology specialisms for the deployment of 5G capabilities with non-5G ready equipment. Legacy manufacturing technology is common in manufacturing shop floors.
5. How important do you think 5G is going to be for the manufacturing industries?
5G, at least from my perspective, will be a game-changer. Before 5G, wireless communication was known for reduced robustness compared to wired networks but with proven potential to support ambitions in certain applications. Whether through the introduction of smart devices and IoT to assist manufacturing operations or equipment monitoring, 5G will change the way that we design manufacturing systems: it will allow us to focus on the system design process, rather than weighing up the limitations and constraints linked to traditional wired communication and less capable wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. The added capabilities and services that are incrementally coming with the development of 5G make the technology not merely another communication network technology. I believe the network will facilitate the development of truly innovative hyperconnected systems.