Aerospace manufacturer builds first SME-based private 5G network in UK
Precision engineering firm AE Aerospace, which makes prototype components for the aerospace, marine, and defence industries, is the first UK SME to deploy a private 5G network, it has been claimed.
AE Aerospace produces specialist parts, in low and medium volumes, for Rolls Royce, Raytheon, and Moog, among others. It has just secured a £3.6 million supply contract with Airbus. BT’s mobile division EE has been engaged to “power” the private 5G setup for the three trials (detailed below), as it has been in related local factory-based 5G trials in the region. The frequency band being utilised for the 5G network was not revealed in the announcement.
A statement said: “BT’s 5G connectivity will deliver the high reliability, high capacity and fast response times needed to support the private network deployment and 5G use case trials.”
The project is part of the West Midlands 5G (WM5G) initiative, a public-private partnership ‘innovation’ company formed by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which aims to fund, and “test, prove, and scale”, 5G products and services in the region. The UK has earmarked £20 million for WM5G, in addition to local public and private funding, in the period to 2022.
The 5G setup at AE Aerospace in Birmingham will also take support from the nearby Worcestershire 5G (W5G) testbed, and the W5G consortium in charge of it. The 5G testbed in Worcestershire, at the site of engineering company Worcester Bosch, was the first live 5G factory setup in the UK when it was announced a year ago.
The Midlands is considered the ‘heartland’ for manufacturing in the UK. The region generates around £32 billion gross value added (GVA) income, in the production of goods and services, and accounts for 22 percent of manufacturing jobs in the country. Most of the value comes from the SME businesses in the manufacturing supply chain.
AE Aerospace said 5G connectivity will “maximise machine time, provide more accurate assurance parts have been machined to specification with increased speed and efficiency, [and] eliminate the need to re-work or replace damaged components impaired in transit.” It also said its new 5G network will create new business models and revenue streams.
The three use cases are for: ‘machine time servitization’, where the 5G-linked IoT machine sensors allow for high-volume data capture, and insights about production flows and machine time utilisation; ‘mobile asset location and calibration tracking’, to provide total “100-percent” assurance that its parts have been machined and measured to specification; and ‘product quality assurance’, to eliminate re-working and replacement of damaged components.
Findings from the trials, which are housed at the firm’s new glass factory in Birmingham, will be shared with the region’s manufacturing industry to help accelerate the adoption of 5G technology within the sector, said a press note. “Any efficiencies and productivity gains that AE Aerospace and WM5G prove from these trials could also be replicated across the sector to support the region’s economic growth,” it said.
Peter Bruch, managing director at AE Aerospace, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen… to develop the 5G technology which will fast forward our glass factory, Servitized programme; by improving our productivity & flexibility, reducing costs and lead time for our customers. Post Covid and BREXIT, we believe that this support will be a driving force, enabling the UK Manufacturing sector to compete on the world stage.”
Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Manufacturing is the bedrock of the West Midlands economy and the ability to harness… new technologies will help our manufacturers to not only remain competitive in a fierce global marketplace but put themselves at the cutting edge. We face a massive challenge to get our economy back on track once this pandemic is finally over and we must capitalise on new technology to supercharge that recovery.”
Sarah Walker, director for corporate and public sector in the Midlands at BT, added: “5G is the perfect enabler for Industry 4.0, and presents unprecedented control, transparency and understanding of operations. The 5G private network will not only drive operational efficiencies and accelerate digital transformation, but it will also stimulate economic rejuvenation of the manufacturing sector, a critical industry for the West Midlands and the wider UK.”
Robert Franks, managing director at WM5G, said: “The trials AE Aerospace is undertaking… will clearly illustrate the value of 5G for manufacturers across the whole UK.”