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Industrial 5G Uncovered

Posted 19 Apr 2022

As part of the wider Industrial 5G Uncovered content series, Digital Catapult spoke with leaders from across the industry and public sector on practical 5G adoption. You can find out more about the DCMS funded Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, discover the Industrial 5G Toolkit, and listen to the four-part interview series with early 5G adopters in manufacturing and logistics to explore the benefits, challenges, scalability and future of Industrial 5G here

AE Aerospace

Ian Bouquet-Taylor, Operations Director at AE Aerospace, speaks about the company’s trials to demonstrate the role that 5G can play in increasing productivity in the manufacturing and aerospace environment. AE Aerospace will be the first UK SME to deploy a 5G private network.

Tell us more about the trials and use cases you are running. 

One important thing that we’re working on is the introduction of the Glass Factory system into our production. The Glass Factory system gives our customers the option to see our business operations more clearly and give real-time updates to enable them to see where their ordered parts are at any time. This system also gives live updates from the production facility. Machines are also able to communicate with the scheduling system, and estimate if they are likely to meet their production plan.

How are these use cases connected to the WM5G programme?

The job of these testbeds is to prove to others in the industry what can be done with 5G. We are handling large amounts of data, and we would not be able to do it on a 4G wireless network or on Wi-Fi. There are so many devices connected to the system that without 5G, the reaction time would be too slow.

We are now building a 5G private network, working with Fitfactory who provide our ERP system. MAZAK, our CNC machine supplier, is providing an open-source translation tool for our equipment to make machine code into a common language. This system allows us to harvest data to understand how the production is going. Overall, this system provides clear data metrics and performance patterns. So far, it has raised our productivity from 28% to 35% and our aim is to double this number.

What advice would you give to SMEs who would want to adopt 5G?

The first thing that I would recommend is understanding what you are trying to achieve. You should then ask yourself: ‘Do I need 5G to do this?’. If the answer is yes, you should speak to a technical expert, they can look at what type of system, equipment and coverage map you would need and if it would work. Secondly, you need to specify the use cases and make sure that they deliver bottom-line benefits to your business.

What other use cases have you been working on?

There is a vast array of things you can do with 5G to make employees and the warehouse more efficient, which might not be as easy to do today with non-5G systems. We have been working with 5PRING on 5G projects involving a series of people who have a solution, and need a problem to address with this solution. For instance, our team was given a pair of AR glasses that they could wear for training purposes. Equally, we have been partnering to build a mobile version of our camera for our inspection activities. We will next look at a use case for warehouse management storage.

What is the role of 5G to meet net zero targets?

We are a small business, but we still produce a carbon footprint. We want to make improvements in planning to reduce the amount of energy required. Thanks to 5G, we contribute to net zero through enhanced monitoring and leaner manufacturing.

What are your thoughts about scaling up with 5G?

We want everything to run on the same system. At the moment, we are covering five out of nineteen CNC machines with 5G. We want to expand this to all the machines. Still, the process is in its early stages and we expect deployability to unlock in 12 months. The network is not yet a plug-and-play tool. In the next five years, we expect to have a great level of precision capability and be able to follow every sequence of the production line.

What is your experience with the lack of 5G enabled devices?

Most people seem to believe that they need to redesign everything from the ground up if they want to adopt 5G, which is wrong. Existing solutions, once connected to a 5G network, can still work. 90% of our 4G devices are connected to 5G in some way. We expect this development to accelerate over the next 12 months.

What needs to happen to accelerate adoption of 5G?

The first thing that can accelerate the adoption of 5G is the financial aspect. Because 5G can be expensive, the improvement in data management, connectivity and latency needs to be very compelling to undertake a 5G project. Secondly, customers are demanding more visibility on the production and tracking processes. Expectations are rising about levels of connected items, response time, and live updates. With the slower communication networks that vendors currently have, this is impossible. The desire for information will drive the demand for 5G and thereby 5G adoption.

How do you see the future of industrial 5G for your industry sector?

Aerospace is quite a slow progressing sector because of the inherent safety issues that demand large amounts of paperwork. However, a 5G network will enable us to get data from anywhere, at any time. It is connectivity and the speed of response allowed by 5G that will improve aircraft safety.

Sunderland City Council

Liz St Louis, Assistant Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council discusses Sunderland’s 5G initiatives for both smart cities and last mile logistics.

Sunderland was named UK Smart City of the Year in 2020 and Connected Britain Digital Council of the Year in 2021; where do you place 5G in your digital transformation agenda?

5G is a key component of what the Council calls the network of networks, because it enables multi-layered connectivity and a pick-and-mix option for deploying new technologies in the city. 5G suits a vast range of use cases, in particular when high bandwidth and low latency are needed. In parallel, we are still working on developing 4G, ultra-fast free WiFi and fibre solutions.

Sunderland Council is one of the partners of the Industrial 5G Testbeds & Trials programme. Tell us more about the Council’s role in the 5G CAL project and the specific use cases you are trialling?

The Council has been overseeing and delivering the private 5G network, supported by technical advisors. We have also provided the project management support for 5G CAL. Sunderland Council is developing a unique Centre of Excellence and an operational test facility for the project. Ultimately, we are trying to automate a 40-tonne truck, whose remote and tele-operation requires the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G.

What results have been achieved so far with the trials?

The project has made great progress, and we now have a fully operational 5G network which covers the private road infrastructure across the factories. We have been working with our partners to automate the street drone and the remote driven vehicles around the Nissan manufacturing plant test track. The project is currently undergoing some modifications as we begin to experiment and automate the 40 tonne truck.  Significant progress has been made in cyber threat assessment to ensure full visibility of automated vehicles along the route.

How have you found the learning process? Is there anything that you have found surprising that may have changed your initial assumptions?

This project has been a great learning process for us. It is fair to say that we have been navigating a really complex project, with multiple partners, and under challenging circumstances including the pandemic and supply chain issues. We have learned a lot about the procurement and planning processes to implement 5G in the city. We also had to consider environmental issues in the locations where we wanted to install the network. We’ve had to remain very flexible, and ultimately we changed some aspects as the project unfolded. For instance, we have engaged with a new partner, Terberg, to undertake trials with the electric vehicle (EV). Overall, this project has given us a lot of confidence in the power of 5G, especially thanks to the speed and ultra low latency observed in the initial trials.

What benefits do you see with 5G adoption in logistics? And what impact could it have for Sunderland?

The productivity savings from automation are absolutely immense, especially for the scale and variety of factories we have. More vehicles are being built on the plant. Productivity and quality improvements enabled by automation will have a huge role to play in staying competitive at a global scale.

Does the Council have any plans in terms of deploying at scale?

We are incredibly pleased to have signed in September 2021, a 20-year strategic joint venture partnership with BAI Communications, a communications infrastructure provider. Together we will work on developing a network of networks to help Sunderland become a leading smart city in the UK.

What are your views on the challenges any council would face to deploy and maintain a full-scale 5G solution? Any thoughts on the business model?

We recognise that the skills, the expertise and the capacity required to design, build and operate 5G solutions are immense. We knew this wasn’t a task for Sunderland Council, so we relied on the market to procure a strategic partner to support our journey. Regarding the business model, the joint venture partnership we established with BAI Communications would allow us to co-invest but also to share the risk and the rewards of the development of a smart city.

In terms of opportunities, have the trials changed your understanding of the benefits of 5G? Are you thinking of trialling other 5G use cases?

We are setting plans for a wider set of use cases in the advanced manufacturing park. We are now using one of the Council’s buildings as the home to Nissan’s training Centre of Excellence. We are also piloting the Electric Revolution Centre. These use cases involve new technologies such as digital twins and augmented reality to support training and safety. Besides this, we are looking for opportunities to further 5G CAL and multiply smart cities initiatives in the region, in collaboration with the Northeast Automotive Alliance. For example, we are also building a private 5G network in Sunderland city centre and across the riverside. Any resulting 5G opportunities will be examined, in particular for CCTV and AR in gaming.

What do you think the role of 5G is for the net zero agenda?

I think 5G has got a significant role to play. As a city, the development and use of next generation connectivity and digital solutions need to absolutely go hand in hand with the city’s net zero ambitions.

Compared to other digital technologies such as the Internet of Things or artificial intelligence for instance, what makes the adoption of 5G different or the same?

What makes 5G different is the opportunities it offers by connecting billions of devices and transmitting data. However, I also think that we’ve got to remember that on its own, 5G is limited. This is why we seek to develop a network of networks, even a system of systems to make the smart city of the future a reality.

What do you think could really accelerate this journey for other councils?

Leadership on the digital agenda has a big role to play in accelerating the deployment of 5G. Creating the right business model is important, but it must be adapted to your locality. Councils need to ensure that the approach they take is very much aligned with the needs of residents and focused on outcomes. This kind of initiative is not about tech for tech’s sake, but about the problems it can solve.

In one sentence, how do you see the future of industrial 5G in the UK?

I would really like to see the UK lead the adoption of 5G globally. We are about to deliver great innovation to the city and we now believe that we have all the right tools and the right partners to make it happen. I am really excited to see what the next few months will bring.

Vision Intelligence

Krste Pangovski, CEO and co-founder of Vision Intelligence, talks about the company’s involvement in the 5PRING programme and the successes of Industry 4.0 use cases.

What innovation does Vision Intelligence bring to the market and how does it leverage 5G?

The innovation that we bring to market revolves around the application of advanced artificial intelligence in vision systems. With our AI-enabled edge camera, customers can monitor directly from the factory, without the need for a server. We use 5G when visual information needs to be viewed and analysed in the cloud, because it provides a secure, rapid and low latency environment.

What is your role in the 5PRING accelerator programme?

Even the larger companies are still discovering the benefits of 5G. This is the reason why WM5G carries out use cases that are relevant to end users. A number of companies such as Vision Intelligence bring their existing or semi-developed solutions on the programme. They look at how 5G will enable or significantly enhance existing infrastructure.

How was your experience working with Digital Catapult on the programme?

It was very pleasant to see the enthusiasm of end users and companies developing these technologies. Digital Catapult technologists are able to provide their expertise, so it’s great to have this platform for the use cases.

What business challenges have you been trying to address with the trials at AE Aerospace?

AE Aerospace has some very interesting challenges in equipment production. The company works with aerospace OEMs, with part of the production being inhouse and the other part external. We have been working on a technology that detects the movement of a part throughout the production chain. This is essential for compliance, but also for tracing any errors. 5G intervenes in the visual aspect of this automated defect detection system. With 5G, we can rapidly identify the parts at different points in the supply chain, so we can spot the origins of any issues that may arise and ensure they don’t happen again. 5G is very valuable for this technology as it allows low latency and secure data transfer in a private environment.

How do you integrate reducing waste and carbon emissions?

If you can’t measure something and extract the data from it, you will never be able to make any real change. To achieve net zero, we need to create a broader sensor network among manufacturers, so we can diagnose all aspects of production. In many cases, a factory has an energy input and a product output. But what happens in between is very complex to monitor, and it gets very hard to identify where the inefficiency lies. 5G is exactly the enabling technology to help us tackle this.

Were there any unexpected findings from the trials?

We thought that the 5G capability would be much less than it actually is. We were pleasantly surprised by the seamless integration of our systems with their networks. This is very important and powerful because the level of integration complexity is often the failing point for a new technology in a manufacturing setting.

What challenges have you encountered?

The challenge ultimately comes down to the use cases. The playing field that has opened up with 5G throws many potential ideas on the table. The difficulty is to sort and pick the best ones

What do you see as the biggest barriers for innovators to implementing 5G in a manufacturing environment?

There are some technical challenges to overcome. Connecting the technology to the network is the biggest difficulty. 5G capabilities need to be built into the product, but finding the technological provider that sells board level 5G components is difficult.

What would be the next step to help SMEs and technology innovators be ready to use 5G capabilities?

First, they should look at the challenges encountered by other companies before them. From a technical point of view, they should also look at the availability of 5G sub-components that can be easily integrated into various devices.

What are the next steps you will take in terms of 5G?

We want to put together a project to enable our edge AI systems to have 5G capability built-in. This will power visual agency to provide visual intelligence, remotely, from anywhere where there is coverage. On the business side, we aim to further develop the use cases, hence the ongoing work with the 5PRING network.

How do you see the future of Industrial 5G?

What 5G enables is breakthrough use cases and products, but how we get there won’t be a smooth, steady road. Rolling out 5G technologies across the country will require collaboration between network operators and end users. I believe that innovative SMEs could actually be the driving force pushing this technology forward.