Could 5G be the missing link for the adoption of Industry 4.0?


Leading the 5G Factory of the Future (5GFoF) consortium, the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) is embarking on its innovative 5G journey as an active industrial research program.

“We are extremely proud to lead the way for this flagship project led by our team in Lancashire at AMRC North West. We want this research program to be a beacon for the powerful role that 5G can have in manufacturing, ”says Steve foxley, CEO of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC).

This government-funded project includes key global players and multiple SMEs in the sector – BAE Systems, IBM, aql, Digital Catapult, Miralis and MTT – AMRC’s role in the consortium is to integrate 5G technology into a manufacturing context. Currently, CDMA is testing 5G technology through a number of use cases. “These include real-time closed-loop manufacturing processes, digital twins, hybrid and mixed reality spaces, factory ecosystem management, remote asset monitoring. The all-new CDMA North West building will also be a smart, low-carbon building demonstrator where 5G meets basic connectivity requirements, ”adds Foxley.

So why is 5G important in the connected factories of the future? Could this be the missing link to Advance Industry 4.0?

“5G is more than just a replacement for Wi-Fi or cable,” says Foxley. “5G is creating a new paradigm for connecting factory equipment to intelligent computing units. The unprecedented high bandwidth and low latency characteristics offered by wireless technology break down many barriers faced by the industry.

With the use of 5G being a hot topic of discussion, the scale of the shift to 5G is both unprecedented and significant. “Switching from 4G to 5G is like comparing a winding single-file A-road in the English countryside to a German multi-lane highway,” says Foxley.

“Fewer corners equals less latency and faster information flows (up to 250 times faster with a theoretical time of 1ms). Speed ​​represents bandwidth, where the national speed limit of 60 mph is compared to how fast you feel comfortable. Or, in this case, up to 10 Gbps, 10 times faster than previous 4G / LTE speeds. One of the biggest improvements in 5G is the number of lanes, which is network slicing. This allows (like the highway) parts of the network to go at different speeds, latencies, ranges and have different security. Finally, there’s the number of cars you can put on the road, and more lanes means more cars. In the case of 5G, that’s 1 million devices per km2 against only 4,000 with 4G. Overall, this represents a significant increase in capabilities and opportunities for the manufacturing community; our role is to explore the potential and highlight areas that require further work, ”adds Foxley.

What are the benefits of 5G for manufacturers?

Understanding what differentiates 5G from 4G from a technical standpoint, Foxley explains the benefits of 5G for manufacturers from a practical standpoint:

  • Improved connectivity: while the number of devices in the workshop continues to increase; we need the ability to potentially connect hundreds of devices. 5G gives us this capability.
  • Low latency: the ability to reduce data latency, capture, analysis, and action to milliseconds means real-time monitoring can become a reality.
  • High reliability: Gone are the days of signal drop or loss of connectivity when walking around the workshop.
  • Improved productivity and end-to-end data traceability: accessing better data faster means quality can be improved, and with improved quality we can break out of the rework loop, leading to improved productivity as well as reduced waste.
  • Adoption of advanced technologies: the ability to deploy other advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT).

The future of 5G in manufacturing operations

When it comes to adopting technology, Foxley points out that new technologies often bring new challenges. “For 5G, there are several challenges that we seek to explore through this 5G Factory of the Future program for the benefit of the UK manufacturing community.

“The most important challenge that AMRC faces among manufacturers is to demonstrate return on investment; At this point, as with many new technologies, we need to bring together the evidence and the practical knowledge so that the technology can drive the improvements in business performance that we expect. “

Beyond that, it also highlights the skills gap, different deployment models, potential machine interface bottlenecks, and the shortage of 5G terminals as other key challenges to be overcome in the industry.

However, AMRC’s 5GFoF program aims to break down and analyze every part of the 5G deployment to overcome these challenges. “We have already assembled a significant knowledge base and skill sets; therefore, we can offer help to resolve issues faced by manufacturers at different levels, whether it is strategic decision making, further assistance with technology, sourcing or sourcing. ‘a cost-benefit analysis,’ says Foxley.

Looking over the next 12-18 months, Foxley concludes, “We expect to see more vendors for infrastructure, devices and software services. The very nature of 5G allows IT components to come together and tightly couple with industrial processes. This means that we can expect to see some disruption in the market; for example, the largest software companies will try to enter the manufacturing sector, which will lead to greater competitiveness among the players.

What is the AMRC?

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) is a leading facility for translational research. We work with businesses to help them create better products and processes, drawing on academic research. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2021 – 20 years of manufacturing industrial products in aerospace, energy, automotive, construction better than they would otherwise be and thus supporting the economy at large, than this either at local or national level.

We have transformed the site where we operate in South Yorkshire from a scene of scars and deindustrialized conflict into a world-renowned research and development center, thriving through collaboration. We have acted as a magnet for a group of global manufacturing companies that employ some 2,500 people on the advanced manufacturing fleet. Along with our work in South Yorkshire, we now have operations in Samlesbury in Lancashire and Broughton in North Wales, where these regions have asked us to support their regional manufacturing ambition.

Steve Foxley, CEO of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC)

My name is Steve Foxley. I am the Managing Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center at the University of Sheffield. I have been leading AMRC since early 2020. Prior to joining AMRC, I was a member of the Siemens plc board of directors. During my time at Siemens, I held various management positions in the UK, Austria and China.

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