The delivery of the UK’s first, fully operational 5G Standalone (5G SA) testbed is bringing UK manufacturers another step closer to creating a more adaptable manufacturing ecosystem.
Lead engineers from the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) North West, hosted the 5G Factory of the Future programme close-out event, alongside project partners at the end of last month.
“The 5G FoF project has successfully delivered the largest manufacturing testbed in the UK, with 5G standalone capability, proven working 5G use cases and developed native 5G devices,” said Dr Aparajithan Sivanathan, project lead for the 5G Factory of the Future programme and head of digital technology at AMRC North West.
“We have also created a business model that will sustain the testbed beyond the end of the project. 5G is going to be the future and we’re now thinking about the next phase.”
A total of 75 people, including businesses, manufacturers and academics, attended the event to hear the project outcomes, network and discover first-hand how 5G is making a difference through live, cutting-edge demos.
The £10m+ project, which completed at the end of March, was part-funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) - as part of its £200m investment in its 5G Testbed and Trials programme. It also received match funding from industry.
Keith Bullock, 5G programme director for digital infrastructure, said this was one of the most interesting projects, adding: “5G FoF was one of 38 projects in the 5G Testbed and Trials programme and I think we now understand quite a lot around how things do and don’t work.
“It’s been brilliant to have a British manufacturing organisation like BAE Systems, coupled with some top vendors, some innovative SMEs and a whole package brought together by AMRC North West, that has been built for innovation and sharing information, made this project hugely attracted and this team has shown incredible resourcefulness up to this point.
“We feel hugely positive about the future, and we have learnt how little we know – and that the way to do this from a government point of view is to not over-define, but to leave it open and allow companies and experts like you, to tell us what we should be doing.”
Delivery of the project, launched in December 2020, was managed by a consortium of industrial and academic leaders from the UK manufacturing and telecommunications sectors. Included was the AMRC as project lead, alongside BAE Systems, Digital Catapult, Fuuse, IBM, aql and MTT.
Steph Leaver, technology development engineer for BAE Systems Air, said: “The project has shown that 5G is a key enabler in creating a more adaptable manufacturing ecosystem. We know that as more digital technology is adopted into day-to-day activities, data volumes are going to scale up exponentially.
“5G will allow flexible reconfiguration and rapid stand-up of new operational hardware, as well as enabling existing machines or facilities to be retrofitted with digital technologies, increasing our manufacturing efficiency and flexibility.”
Kostas Katsaros, lead 5G technologist at Digital Catapult, said that 5G has the power to transform manufacturing by enabling faster and more reliable communication between machines, people and systems.
“As the technical design authority for the project, we were able to offer private cellular network deployment and integration capability for manufacturing and industrial domains, enabling early experimentation for specific use cases, a critical part of showcasing the potential of 5G technology in an industrial environment to drive value, quickly build capability and deliver tangible impact.”
Will Maden, chief operating officer of Fuuse said: “Through our involvement in the 5G Factory of the Future project, Fuuse has developed a chain of custody solution that allows end users to monitor not only the location, but also the health of the goods from dispatch through to delivery.
“We're now moving into a commercial phase, planning to release the product onto the market starting with 4G sensor technology for the logistics use case, before ultimately releasing a 5G capable solution.”
James Petherbridge, IBM Consulting said: “The 5G Factory-of-the-Future programme has demonstrated the power of putting IBM’s AI into the hands of manufacturing experts, enabling them to build models that automate data-driven algorithms delivering improved shopfloor performance. The combination of 5G connectivity together with the power of hybrid cloud have demonstrated they provide the versatility and flexibility to scale operations securely.
"This project has also demonstrated the value of ecosystems collaborating to bring diverse capabilities together and deliver outcomes faster across small and large organisations. The widespread adoption of the 5G Factory-of-Future capabilities across the UK will help position manufacturing as a key lever for productivity improvement and global competitiveness.”
Patrick Land, chief technology officer at MTT said: “The 5G FoF project has enabled MTT to enhance our digital products, with 5G delivering a faster and more connected platform for MTT machine monitoring and control. MTT is driving the integration of machine monitoring systems with 5G offering enhanced connectivity and improving our digital twin capabilities.”
Professor Adam Beaumont, founder and chairman of aql said: “We see the use of 5G and IoT technologies as a key facilitator for Factory innovation, with the 5G network being used to connect multiple technologies across all sites. The delivery of this innovative technology has enabled critical real-time data, allowing manufacturing and research teams to improve efficiency and accuracy.
“Many of the learnings from this project will allow aql to support 5G delivery and innovation for future projects and industries. aql is also the mobile operator behind many other projects and we hope to work with all the partners in the future to explore how we can further cross collaborate.”
Dr Sivanathan said that AMRC North West will continue to work with the project partners in order to see how the 5G technology can be built upon further by seeing how it can be used in a more complicated, critical environment.
He added: “We already have more work lined up, which includes a project called YORAN and upcoming work with a UK/Turkey strategic project and Celtic-Next Europe. We want to really take on the tough challenge of seeing how far we can push the boundaries of 5G technologies.”