5G industry news Telecommunications Tech | Private Networks

The future of UK manufacturing and supply chain infrastructure

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 13 Jul 2021
  • Last modified 2 Sep 2021
Manufacturing is a critical sector for the UK economy and this event summary will bring together speakers on the topic

The Midlands provides a leading example as the heartland of the industry. Manufacturing in the Midlands generates more than £32 billion GVA a year and accounts for 22% of jobs. Despite the prevalence of large manufacturers in the Midlands, most of the value of the output in manufacturing comes from the SME businesses which make up these organisations’ supply chains. 

Recognising the criticality of the manufacturing sector, a group of leading 5G businesses have come together to co-invest in these pioneering trials. West Midlands 5G (WM5G) is the UK’s first region-wide 5G innovation programme set up by West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  A key partner is the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), representing one of the largest public-sector investments in UK manufacturing with a clear vision to inspire Great British manufacturing on the global stage. 

A UK5G SMEs & Regions Working Group Seminar brought together speakers on this topic from both the Midlands and Scotland. Click here to watch, or read the summary below. You will also hear directly from AE Aerospace, a leading manufacturing business in the West Midlands. They will be the first UK SME to deploy a 5G private network and will work together with WM5G, Worcestershire 5G and its technology partner BT, on three new 5G use cases set to transform manufacturing productivity.

Riccardo Weber, Project Manager: Manufacturing, WM5G: “5G is enabling efficiencies and driving industrial productivity, but also spurring innovation and new ways of working across all sectors. It's really, really exciting. We’re working with mobile network operators, infrastructure providers, in addition to local authorities to accelerate the rollout of 5G and the fibre networks across the West Midlands.”

“We’ve launched three innovation centres in the West Midlands. This will enable us to transform businesses and public services in critical areas including emergency services, transport and manufacturing—and create better connectivity for consumers,” he continues. 

“5G facilitated sensors are monitoring our machines and keeping us updated with the production process. We’re getting real-time information extremely quickly. Problems, for example, are flagged immediately,” said Peter Bruch, Managing Director, AE Aerospace. “In terms of capacity planning, such technology is also reducing the amount of paperwork, which will make a huge difference to our business going forward.”

“This is leading towards a “glass factory model”, which will allow customers to be able to see into our factory and shop floor as if the walls are made of glass. They will be able to see their parts being made—a radical change from the way most companies work,” he adds. “5G will move us forward.”

Alejandra Matamoros, Technology Manager, MTC, said: “The future of 5G is offering reconfigurability, interoperability, flexibility, scalability, modularity, availability, reliability. And so, that’s exactly what we’re doing. BT is our main collaborator, and our first 5G testbed is a private network private standalone solution in Coventry where we have laser and automation technologies that will benefit greatly.”

Andy McKenzie, Associate, Scotland 5G Centre, said: “Scotland has a real problem with connectivity. The new 5G centre should therefore offer economic benefits, and help companies understand how they can make the most of it. We’re looking to work with local initiatives to facilitate use cases, investment, and innovation. We really want to help them grow and offer solutions, particularly SMEs.”

Manufacturing is one of the main focus areas for WM5G and a key partner is the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), which was established in 2010 as an independent Research & Technology Organisation (RTO) with the objective of bridging the gap between academia and industry. It represents one of the largest public-sector investments in UK manufacturing with a clear vision to inspire Great British manufacturing on the global stage.  In Scotland, a consortium of partners – comprising the Scotland 5G Centre, University of Strathclyde, and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), which is operated by Strathclyde – is developing a next-generation network at the NMIS specialist technology centres, the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and Lightweight Manufacturing Centre (LMC), in Renfrewshire.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted the manufacturing sector but new Industry 4.0 technologies driven by 5G have the potential to power recovery by transforming manufacturing resilience and productivity.