In 2020, the manufacturing industry accounted for £191 billion of output and 2.7 million jobs, with average wages 13% higher than the rest of the economy. But the sector is facing significant challenges in the aftermath of COVID-19, amid shifting markets and a looming skills gap. Effectively planning and designing processes and plants has become more complex, and companies can no longer rely on always having a physical expert on hand to deploy operations in person.
5G, however, could transform the sector: facilitating more efficient and effective ways of working. Globally, the sector is experiencing ever shorter product life cycles; against a backdrop of rapid shifts in trends and increasing demand for personalisation, consumers expect agility. Manufacturing equipment is also becoming progressively more complex and so making changes to production lines at short notice can be tricky, even more so when relying on wired connectivity. And in a time of shrinking margins, maximising uptime is more important than ever to retain profitability.
5G networks offer a massive increase in available bandwidth. This allows factories to have widely distributed wireless network sensors, granting unparalleled insights into the factory and the ability to virtually “test-run” to both speed up and de-risk the planning and design process. Fifth-generation connectivity will ensure manufacturing technicians and engineers are able to collaborate quickly, remotely and more effectively than ever before in the design and planning of plants and processes—and it is the UK economy that will reap the benefits.
5G’s bandwidth and ultra-low latency make real-time collaboration possible through augmented and virtual reality. With a secure network operating across multiple sites, 5G can facilitate greater alignment between design and engineering teams; offering the ability and capacity to review designs in real-time and on-site, ultimately speeding up the process and providing frontline feedback on designs. As well as boosting productivity, remote teamwork also saves time and money because skilled employees do not need to travel to the manufacturing site. Early projects in the 5G Testbed and Trials programme have estimated that 5G adoption could provide between a 1% to 3% increase in productivity across the manufacturing sector, translating to billions of pounds of revenue.
A fully connected factory allows for the deployment of sensors throughout the site, and 5G’s higher bandwidth and machine-type communication capabilities allows for an unparalleled density of sensors. The real-time data this provides, offers greater insight and visibility into production flows and machine utilisation, helping to reduce the time needed for planning and design processes. This ensures new designs can be rolled out more quickly—quite literally at the touch of a button—increasing adaptability and offering greater flexibility in response to shortening product lifecycles and demands for customisation. All of this assists in informing decisions and bringing support to low-power devices across the entire supply chain, without sacrificing performance.
5G connectivity can enable better and more informed decision making. By increasing the number of sensors that can be deployed, 5G networks facilitate the creation of live digital twins, replicating the manufacturing environment digitally. This allows for more thorough and accurate testing of product and plant designs, without wasting valuable time or money. Processes can also be analysed in greater detail and maximised for both efficiency and sustainability. Many businesses may feel that they have already made the necessary investments in technology and connectivity but the speed, volume and reliability of 5G is unmatched.
5G is a dynamic, scalable network platform that adds connectivity to individual factories as well as across supply chains and between organisations. This provides a unique ability to connect goods whilst they are being produced, stored and shipped, as well as once they’ve reached the end customer. Remote monitoring after the product sale can be particularly useful for manufacturers; crucial insights such as how products are used by customers can then be fed back into the design process.