The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) trials 5G private network to help manufacturers boost productivity

09th Feb

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), a facility in Coventry dedicated to supporting manufacturers to benefit from new technologies, is launching a 5G private network to help manufacturers boost productivity via 5G use cases. MTC is launching this exciting capability in partnership with leading 5G partners comprising West Midlands 5G (WM5G), Worcestershire 5G (W5G) and its technology partner BT.

The private 5G network powered by W5G and BT will be installed at MTC’s manufacturing research facility, located at its Ansty Park site in Coventry. The 5G connected workshop environment will enable enterprises of all sizes to explore multi-edge computing and robotics applications, and benefits, including a live 5G-connected robotics demonstration later in the year.

Manufacturing organisations, including SMEs, will have access to an advanced 5G-connected manufacturing facility to spearhead local manufacturing productivity and support post pandemic economic recovery.

Manufacturing is a critical sector for the UK economy and the Midlands is 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.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted the manufacturing sector. New Industry 4.0 technologies – driven by 5G – have the potential to power recovery by transforming manufacturing resilience and productivity. 5G enables productivity improvements by connecting sensors on machines and other assets securely and in real-time to data platforms and applications to optimise processes and equipment.

Recognising the criticality of the manufacturing sector, a group of leading 5G businesses have come together to co-invest in these pioneering trials. WM5G is the UK’s first region-wide 5G innovation company and forms part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), 5G Tests and Trials programme. These trials are the first projects in WM5G’s manufacturing testbed. WM5G will be supporting these trials working closely with the Worcestershire 5G testbed and its strategic technology partner BT to supply and integrate the technology infrastructure required to deliver this unique showcase.

The immediate ambition is to prove the benefits that 5G services could have on the implementation of robotics and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) in a modern production line, such as an Industry 4.0 factory environment.

The longer-term aim is to develop a series of 5G use cases bringing 5G connectivity, skills, and applications to the MTC Core Research Programme, supporting its SME Digital REACH programme and offering a testbed environment for their wider customer and partner base. SME Digital REACH offers SMEs guidance and support to increase productivity through the introduction and adoption of digital manufacturing technology.   

With higher speeds, greater capacity, and shorter response times, 5G will unlock the potential of these technologies in a way not currently possible through previous generation connectivity solutions. The MTC workshop will be a functioning facility that is able to showcase this.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “This is yet another example of what a game-changer 5G is for the region, and why it was so critical we won the Government competition to become the UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed.

“Given the coronavirus pandemic and the enormous task of our economic recovery, the emergence of 5G is happening at an incredibly important time. That the new technology can have such an impact on one of our region’s largest sectors in manufacturing bodes extremely well for the future of our region. We must continue to make the most of state-of-the-art technology and use it to help turbo-charge our recovery efforts.”

Alejandra Matamoros, technology manager at the MTC, added: “Trialling and demonstrating the potential of 5G connectivity in our workshop facilities will advance MTC’s offering in digital manufacturing and automation. This will help to deliver additional realisable levels of flexibility in production for UK manufacturers and the integration of supply chains.”

As well as establishing a long-term showcase facility to demonstrate best practice and the capabilities of 5G in manufacturing, this first use case will provide valuable insights into safe and accurate AGV movement for fleet management as well as the implementation of robotics in production lines.

The first live trial at the facility will see two robots simultaneously operating to deliver the same task and increase efficiency of factory operations. If successful, the trial will be an important step in 5G innovation within the sector and support the aim of helping British manufacturing to alleviate the risks involved in the implementation of these solutions.

Sarah Walker, BT director for corporate and public sector in the Midlands, added: “Today’s announcement forms part of BT’s commitment in working with WM5G and W5G under a shared vision to harness innovative technology to create a smart manufacturing future.

“We are already leading in 5G innovation across healthcare, education and smart cities, but the digital transformation of the manufacturing sector is key to driving regional regeneration across the UK, starting here in the West Midlands. Deploying a 5G Private Network at the MTC to develop 5G use cases for local businesses is a significant step forward towards our shared commitment and we’re excited to make this a reality today.”

Robert Franks, managing director at WM5G, added: “WM5G is committed to supporting the recovery and growth of the manufacturing sector in the West Midlands through technology innovation. We are delighted to be working with the MTC as our strategic triallist to prove and share the benefits of connected manufacturing with SMEs. MTC has been leading the way in exploring new manufacturing technologies such as robotics, digitisation and intelligent automation for a long time.”

WM5G Limited is a multi-million-pound programme that both the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and DCMS have set-up to develop the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed. DCMS expects to invest over £20m in this programme, in addition to substantial West Midlands public sector and private investment (October 2018 to March 2022).

For more information, visit: www.wm5g.org.uk

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