5G productivity boost with £10m testbed scheme

5G industrial testbed

Manufacturing in the North West has received a massive confidence boost with the announcement of almost £10m public/private investment in an open access 5G industrial testbed.

This will be led by the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which is set to be built on the Salmesbury Enterprise Zone and will house the 5G-Factory of the Future programme as well as enhancing Lancashire and the North West’s reputation as a hot-bed of advanced manufacturing innovation and expertise.

The £9.5m award, which includes match funding from industry, was made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is part of the Government’s £200m investment in 5G test bed facilities across the country.

“This is a big vote of confidence in Lancashire and the North West and a potential game changer for the region,” said AMRC North West commercial director, Melissa Conlon, whose team, part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, led an industrial consortium that includes global players such as BAE Systems, IBM, and telecoms and private 5G network provider, Three, along with Burnley-based MTT, an SME developer of digitalisation technologies for machine tools, and the Lancashire based data-driven logistics specialist Miralis.

The Digital Catapult will be the technical authority lead and coordinate 5G integration, working closely with Three and use case developers.

Conlon added: “Lancashire is home to leading global businesses in the advanced manufacturing sector, aerospace, automotive and energy.

“While the region’s manufacturing has high levels of economic activity, it lags behind the rest of the North West and the UK in productivity.

“This investment will change that. It will enable Lancashire’s manufacturers to close the productivity gap with the implementation of 5G technologies, the adoption of which will be de-risked and fine-tuned at the AMRC.”

Announcing the award, Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “The Government is investing to help innovative thinkers in brilliant British industries harness the power of high-speed 5G connectivity.

“With the North West’s strong industrial heritage it is fitting that a project to create the factories of the future should take place in the region.

“I look forward to seeing how 5G’s role in boosting economic productivity can be employed in other sectors.”

The benefits of the 5G-FoF programme should dramatically improve the performance of manufacturers across the North of England, with significant reductions in defects and waste through real time monitoring, enhanced machine utilisation and energy saving through digital twin track and trace, and a big reduction in travel and maintenance times brought about by shared ‘hybrid reality spaces.’

BAE Systems’ manufacturing and materials technology director, Andy Schofield, said: “The 5G research and development test bed will support the development and growth of our new intelligent, smart factory which is applying game-changing digital technologies to the defence sector.”

The 5G-FoF programme will also have a significant footprint at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, which is the result of a multimillion-pound investment and collaboration with more than 40 blue chip and SME companies along with academic institutions.

Charles Lupton, who led the project for IBM, said: “Data is now our most valuable asset and 5G will help us to gather it quickly and securely through the increased number of IoT sensors provided by MTT.

“Once securely gathered, IBM’s data integration, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence can be utilised to provide detailed insights on productivity and quality control.”

AMRC director of research, Ben Morgan, said: “This was the highest scoring bid for the 5G Test Bed and Trials which is testimony to the talent and hard work of the consortium, but also to bid lead, Dr Aparajithan Sivanathan.

“It also shows the power of industrial collaboration and the benefits of long-term relationships with pioneer companies like BAE Systems and MTT who are embracing smart technologies to give the UK, the North and Lancashire a competitive advantage in an uncertain and challenging world.

“There are so many possibilities for innovation and productivity improvements that 5G can open up.”