UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre gets private 5G for Industry 4.0 tests
The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry in the UK, established by the UK government as an independent research and technology organisation for academia and industry, is to be equipped with a private 5G network for manufacturing companies to test new production methods.
The network is being installed in partnership with Worcestershire 5G (W5G) and West Midlands 5G (WM5G) groups, formed by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) after the West Midlands region was chosen as the main site for the UK industrial 5G testbeds.
Last month, the W5G/WM5G group announced precision engineering firm AE Aerospace, which makes prototype components for the aerospace, marine, and defence industries, as the first UK SME to deploy a private 5G network. BT’s mobile division EE is engaged to “power” the private 5G setup for the three trials at AE Aerospace, as well as the new work at MTC, and all the local testbeds.
The MTC is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by UK innovation agency Innovate UK. It specialises in digital manufacturing, additive manufacturing, automation, robotics, and intelligent automation, and works with large and small companies. Its research partners include the University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, and The Welding Institute (TWI).
The plan is to establish a long-term showcase facility to demonstrate the capabilities of 5G in manufacturing for “enterprises of all sizes to explore”, it said. It will run a “live 5G-connected robotics demonstration” some time later this year, to provide insights into safe and accurate movement of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for fleet management and for the implementation of robotics in production lines.
A statement said: “The first trial 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.”
Alejandra Matamoros, technology manager at the MTC, said: “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.”
Manufacturing in the Midlands generates more than £32 billion GVA per year and accounts for 22 percent of jobs. The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has impacted the manufacturing sector. However, new Industry 4.0 technologies “have the potential to power an economic recovery by transforming manufacturing resilience and productivity”, said the MTC.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, 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 Covid-19 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.”
Robert Franks, managing director at WM5G, said: “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 trialist 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.”
Sarah Walker, director for corporate and public sector at BT, commented: “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.”