5G tipped to aid revolution of Scotland’s manufacturing industry

5G can help underpin the next revolution in Scotland’s manufacturing industry, experts have said.

5G is a cellular technology which is being engineered to greatly increase the speed of wireless networks. Because its speed exceeds that of wireline networks, it will be useful in tasks that require realtime feedback.

The Scotland 5G Centre, which partners with The Scottish Government; the University of Strathclyde; the Scottish Futures Trust; and University of Glasgow, said that, although 5G is in its ‘formative’ stages, it is ‘expected’ to be a ‘critical’ part of a range of new concepts in manufacturing – such as live streaming of engineering instruction to machines, machine-to-machine communication, and the implementation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The group continued by saying that access to state-of-the-art infrastructure will allow manufacturers to trial new business models, technologies and concepts, by connecting equipment, monitoring data in real-time, and supporting the application of machine learning algorithms.

Following a ruling in 2019, individuals and organisations will be able to create their own private mobile networks using 5G. The 5G Centre said access to state-of-the-art infrastructure will allow manufacturers to trial new business models, technologies and concepts, by connecting equipment, monitoring data in real-time, and supporting the application of machine learning algorithms.

The Scotland 5G Centre is currently developing their own ‘next generation’ network at the NMIS specialist technology centre, the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and Lightweight Manufacturing Centre (LMC) in Renfrewshire.

The group said that it will trial the use of 5G in a manufacturing context in 2021, adding that it is expected to be the UK’s first industrial application of 5G. The centre continued by saying that the work will act as an exemplar for others to follow – anticipating that use cases will be adopted by manufactures ‘across the country’ creating their own pop-up private networks.

Malcolm Brew, 5G senior research fellow at the University of Strathclyde, said, “5G means different things to different people, but in an industrial context is much more than just another number – it is going to be very different to its predecessors. While it is not yet fully baked, 5G will help manufacturers break the mould and create a lot of opportunities for new applications and even business models. The use of Ofcom’s ‘shared spectrum framework’ policy will be a major enabler in building new private 5G networks, and also bring opportunities for featuring shared radio access with other mobile operators and vendors, using neutral hosting strategies.

“Through a network of networks – whether they are Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or LoRaWan – next-generation connectivity can help manufacturers securely integrate their existing technologies to link millions of devices, which will give them much better visibility of their processes and equipment. Access to regular information, without relying on third parties, will help them be much nimbler, tracking assets to drive efficiencies in the production cycle, supporting health and safety for staff, and securely store data on site.

“The potential benefits extend far beyond individual factories. With interaction between public and private networks, manufacturers could understand the provenance of all the parts and materials they use, supporting efficient methods of production such as just-in-time manufacturing and having a much closer understanding of their supply chains. Ultimately, our aim is to find out whether these new ways of working are feasible and whether 5G’s potential is worth the hype.”

Paul Coffey, CEO of the Scotland 5G Centre, commented, “The use of 5G in this way underlines how very different it will be to 4G and its previous iterations, and Scotland has the opportunity to be at the forefront of the seismic changes that it will sweep through manufacturing and other sectors in the years ahead. The Scotland 5G Centre is here to accelerate the deployment and adoption of 5G infrastructure and services, realising its economic and societal potential for Scotland and enabling all types of businesses to reap the benefits of this new technology.

“The development of a private 5G network at NMIS facilities is an important first step towards the wider adoption of the next generation of connectivity in Scottish manufacturing. Ultra-low latency, high-bandwidth telecommunications will underpin many of the technologies which will define the next industrial revolution – but we need an appropriate environment to test, develop and prove use cases and this initiative will serve exactly that purpose.”

Danny McMahon, metrology and digital team lead at the AFRC, said, “The application of 5G to manufacturing is still very new – the full benefits haven’t yet been realised and there is little understanding of what the return on investment might be. With the creation of this new private network we’re aiming to see what value can be unlocked with state-of-the-art connectivity and prove the use cases that many people have talked about, but are still to be delivered. We will then be able to advise industry what is and is not possible and practical for them to adopt.

“Manufacturing sites have huge amounts of data; but, to get the most out of it, you need to have access to the data as close to real-time as possible. 5G enables that through ultra-low latency and rapid data transfer, in theory, helping you to understand what has happened as soon as an instruction is processed or a piece of equipment breaks down, for example. While the network will initially be hosted at the AFRC and LMC, it will go on to form a key part of NMIS’s offering in supporting the adoption of advanced manufacturing techniques across Scotland.”