From the Industrial Revolution to Industry 4.0, manufacturing has always been a cornerstone of the UK economy. Continuous innovation has been the driving force behind this, but today – more than ever – manufacturers are under constant pressure from shrinking margins and in some instances, rising demands to boost factory efficiency, while enhancing safety and security.

Spurred by shorter product lifecycles and the long lasting impact of Covid-19, these longstanding challenges are made even more complex by the need for agility and emerging skills gaps. Not forgetting the need for every manufacturer to operate more sustainably and address future net zero requirements for the good of the planet, and their business. Together, this vast and varying range of factors makes the imperative for change far greater.

Read more to discover some of the ways you can be better connected.

Advanced connectivity solutions, including 5G, can be the key to realising this – and can potentially add up to £6.3bn to the value of the UK manufacturing industry by 2030, according to Vodafone. But while more benefits and use cases emerge every day, adopting, implementing and unlocking the potential of these solutions can seem overwhelming.

UKTIN is here to help manufacturers, of all types and sizes, find the right resources and connections to map a clearer path to utilising 5G. So you can unlock the added productivity, flexibility, resiliency, security, sustainability and transformative benefits it, along with industrial digital technologies, can bring.

Benefits of 5G for Manufacturing

Control operations in real-time

The higher bandwidth and low latency of 5G creates the opportunity to manage and analyse large amounts of data in real-time. 5G can be used to connect goods, assets, the manufacturing line and even the factory as a whole, to AI tools in the cloud. This allows for less downtime, fewer ‘lost’ assets and greater productivity.

Be it tracking and monitoring assets and supplies, moving to a predictive maintenance model, linking bespoke customer requests to a dynamic supply chain or having the flexibility to easily reconfigure production lines, 5G enables a level of insight and control not yet seen. Real-time, high-quality images, video and data can also be shared with AI and ML systems optimising the output of your factory, improving efficiency, quality control and reducing waste.

Reduce risks with digital twins

The speed and reliability of 5G allows for the creation of live digital twins, to digitally replicate the manufacturing environment. This enables more thorough, accurate and rapid testing in a virtual dimension before production hits the factory floor, minimising the need for downtime, disruption or costly mistakes. Processes can also be analysed in greater detail and maximised for both the efficiency and sustainability of the factory floor. The improved speed, volume, and reliability of 5G allows for comprehensive digital twins, to run ever more complex scenarios. All of which means: accelerated transformation.

Improve the security and resilience of networks

Network security and a stable connection is of the upmost importance for manufacturers – a dropped connection might jeopardise worker safety, hold up production, or affect the quality of the final product. 5G has security and resilience built in as part of the standard. AI and automated security tools can also be layered over the top for greatly enhanced security. It means manufacturers can migrate to wireless connectivity with confidence, while unlocking added agility and flexibility.

Replicate connectivity over multiple sites to enable great innovation

Through creating a private 5G network or partnering with a Mobile Network Operator to utilise a 5G ‘network slice’, businesses can create a ubiquitous, flexible network across multiple sites, granting seamless access for third-parties to carry out remote maintenance, training or security. This is simpler to manage than multiple wireless networks and makes data sharing and collaboration across multiple sites and organisations much easier. This fosters greater innovation and collaboration between teams, partners and suppliers, levelling-up the UK’s manufacturing sector across the board.

Future-proof factories from future skills challenges

Training and remote support can be run in real-time using mixed reality and dynamic data visualisation, addressing the sector’s burgeoning skills gap. An estimated 60% of UK engineers are over the age of 50, meaning the sector is likely to face a dramatic drop off in technical knowledge over the next 10-15 years. 5G enables technologies like AR/VR on the shop floor, so you can decentralise expertise and ensure all workers are armed with the insights and support they need, when they need it, across multiple sites, in real-time. This also means less travel and costs, speeding up response times and supporting sustainability initiatives.

Enable next-level automation

5G will enable new levels of automation for manufacturing, from logistics and warehousing to the production line. Owing to its high bandwidth and low latency, 5G allows robots to undertake more complex tasks and facilitates closer collaborative working with humans. Not only will this drive efficiency, but the ability for remote control means they can be deployed in hazardous environments and stopped or redirected in an emergency, all of which helps to boost worker safety.

It’s true that not all of these benefits are instantly accessible, but as 5G and other solutions mature and innovation continues we expect to see these open up to Manufacturing.