Manufacturers across the West Midlands are to be offered the chance to harness the power of mobile 5G technology to boost productive and help drive the region's post pandemic economic recovery.
The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) at Ansty Park in Coventry is to be equipped with its own private 5G network which manufacturers can come and use to test and explore new production methods.
The network is part of a number of trials and projects being organised by West Midlands 5G (WM5G), which was set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Government after the region was chosen to be the UK's official 5G testbed.
The Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry is to get its own private 5G network so companies can test new production methods
The MTC network will enable enterprises of all sizes to explore computing and robotics applications, and other benefits, including a live 5G-connected robotics demonstration later in the year.
The network has been installed in partnership with Worcestershire 5G (W5G) and its technology partner BT.
Manufacturing in the Midlands generates more than £32 billion GVA a-year and accounts for 22% of jobs. Yet despite the boasting a large number of big manufacturers most of the region's output actually comes from SMEs which make up these bigger organisations’ supply chains.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the manufacturing sector hard but new Industry 4.0 technologies – driven by 5G – have the potential to power an economic recovery by transforming manufacturing resilience and productivity.
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 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.”
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 the pioneering trials.
The immediate ambition of the 5G testbed 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.
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.
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.”
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.”