However, while some UK-based manufacturers, such as Jaguar Land Rover, have been heavily involved in 5G trials, it remains unclear how critical 5G connectivity will be to this sector.
While the jury may be out in the UK, in the Nordic countries there has been a recent upswell of trials in 5G-enabled manufacturing. Could this prove instructive for the sector in the UK?
Of course, the enthusiasm of the Nordic region is partly because two 5G giants, Nokia and Ericsson, are both based there, and these vendors have been heavily involved in most of the trials.
A recent example of this came in the form of a series of tests of industrial 5G applications run by Nokia and Telia, with help from technology company and leading semiconductor chip maker Intel, at Nokia’s Conscious Factory in Oulu. The trials combined ultra-low latency and high bandwidth aspects of 5G with machine learning to enhance production, with an Industry 4.0 environment. Industry 4.0 refers to automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – the underlying idea behind smart factories.
Nokia deployed the network, using its 5G AirScale and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) platforms, working with Intel’s 5G Mobile Trial Platform as the terminal, and an integrated video analytics application from Finnish software start-up Finwe, a leader in multi-platform 360/VR video experiences and an expert in sensor algorithms.
The integrated video analytics application was used to monitor and analyse a video feed of an assembly line, while machine learning was used to predict inconsistencies and warn operators. Nokia and Telia also demonstrated cloud-based remote service delivery systems for business customers.
Ericsson, meanwhile, has run projects with Volvo and other local manufacturers, and recently announced an initiative with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology to explore and develop industrial applications.
The first use case focused on the aircraft industry, and in particular on producing blade integrated disks – or blisks – for aero engines. Blisks are more accurate and robust than separate disks and blades but usually take three to four months to produce and check for quality.
Ericsson built a trial production network based on 5G in the 3.5 GHz band, which links to acceleration sensors fitted on the blisks during production. The process receives real-time vibrations from the sensors and adjusts the process accordingly to reduce manufacturing and testing time.
This could save a single factory €27 million through increased efficiencies, claims Ericsson, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Complex production processes like this one are better suited to low latency wireless than fixed line connectivity, it added.
So are these countries just a little more forward-thinking than the UK when it comes to 5G-enabled manufacturing? In fact it’s a bit more complicated than that – as this analysis indicates.