5G in Design and Planning

In 2020, the manufacturing industry accounted for £191 billion of output and 2.7 million jobs, with average wages 13% higher than the rest of the economy. But the sector is facing significant challenges amid shifting markets and a looming skills gap. 

Effectively planning and designing processes and plants has become more complex, and companies can no longer rely on always having a physical expert on hand to deploy operations in person.

Advanced connectivity solutions, including 5G, could transform the sector: facilitating more efficient and effective ways of working. Globally, the sector is experiencing ever shorter product life cycles; against a backdrop of rapid shifts in trends and increasing demand for personalisation, consumers expect agility. Manufacturing equipment is also becoming progressively more complex and making changes to production lines at short notice can be tricky, even more so when relying on wired connectivity. And in a time of shrinking margins, maximising uptime is more important than ever to retain profitability.   

5G networks offer a massive increase in available bandwidth.  This allows factories to have widely distributed wireless network sensors, granting unparalleled insights into the factory and the ability to virtually “test-run” to both speed up and de-risk the planning and design process.  Advanced connectivity will ensure manufacturing technicians and engineers are able to collaborate quickly, remotely and more effectively than ever before in the design and planning of plants and processes—and it is the UK economy that will reap the benefits.

Design and Planning Applications

Real-time Remote Teamwork & Collaboration with Mixed Reality

Increased bandwidth and ultra-low latency make real-time collaboration possible through augmented and virtual reality. A secure network operating across multiple sites can facilitate greater alignment between design and engineering teams; offering the ability and capacity to review designs in real-time and on-site, ultimately speeding up the process and providing frontline feedback on designs. As well as boosting productivity, remote teamwork also saves time and money because skilled employees do not need to travel to the manufacturing site. Projects in the 5G Testbed and Trials programme estimated that 5G adoption could provide between a 1% to 3% increase in productivity across the manufacturing sector, translating to billions of pounds of revenue. 

Part of the UK5G Testbed and Trials Programme, 5G Factory of the Future used 5G and mixed reality to reduce design costs, improve productivity and increase outputs. The consortium created a shared hybrid reality space that was used in a variety of ways by their teams, not least in supporting the design process.  Critical discussions can not only happen more quickly and easily, but travel costs could be reduced by an estimated 65%, arising from worldwide collaboration.

5G-ENCODE  similarly used shared virtual and augmented reality, running over a private 5G network they deployed within the National Composites Centre. The technology was used to support and assist the manufacturing design process and they estimated this could deliver a 20% cost reduction. See their end of project report here.

Further afield, Lufthansa Technik is effectively using VR and AR over a standalone private 5G network to visualise the 3D design of the cabin equipment in empty aircraft fuselages on tablets or other devices. This allows on-site technicians to interact with the component developers in the factories using collaborative video, something that had not previously been possible as the transfer of extensive CAD data required high bandwidths, even inside a parked aircraft. 

Siemens implemented its first live remote monitoring system for Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) in its Transformers factory in Mexico. The FAT is proof that the equipment manufactured by Siemens follows the customer’s contract specifications and is ready to be installed on-site. Normally, customers must be physically present at the factory to conduct the FAT, but because of live monitoring, customers can conduct the FAT from their own locations. With the introduction of 5G, live streaming and remote monitoring will be more seamless, accurate, and secure, enabling operators to broaden their applications and troubleshoot problems as they occur.

Industrial Internet of Things

A fully connected factory allows for the deployment of sensors throughout the site, and 5G’s higher bandwidth and machine-type communication capabilities allows for an unparalleled density of sensors. The real-time data this provides, offers greater insight and visibility into production flows and machine utilisation, helping to reduce the time needed for planning and design processes.  New designs can be rolled out more quickly—quite literally at the touch of a button—increasing adaptability and offering greater flexibility in response to shortening product life cycles and demands for customisation.  All of which assists in informing decisions and bringing support to low-power devices across the entire supply chain, without sacrificing performance.

AE Aerospace was the first UK SME to deploy a 5G private network as part of the WM5G programme. Sensors were installed across the factory to facilitate wireless connectivity between machines, allowing high-volume data capture and unparalleled levels of insight.

The ability to better understand production flows and machine time utilisation enables AE Aerospace to more accurately plan, offer precise timescales to clients and more efficiently manage scheduling, with the potential to transform their business model to selling machine time, rather than individual products. This accelerated and improved planning capability allows for more effective utilisation of the factory floor and a positive impact on the bottom line.  As you would expect from a sector of this size, the revenue gains from such planning efficiencies can have a transformative effect on the UK economy. 

Peter Bruch, Managing Director at AE Aerospace, said:

“5G Technology will fast forward our Servitized Programme; by improving our productivity & flexibility, reducing costs and lead time for our customers.  Post-Covid and Brexit, we believe that this support will be a driving force, enabling the UK Manufacturing sector to compete on the world stage.”

New forms of connectivity can help manufacturers of every size, as shown by the e.GO factory in Germany. e.GO developed an Industry 4.0 factory to deliver more affordable electric vehicles and gain a competitive advantage over its rivals. Vodafone worked with e.GO to connect machines in an 8,500m2 site using a private ‘5G ready’ network, rather than Wi-Fi. Crucially, this connected factory means that e.GO’s development team can adjust factory settings at the touch of a button, allowing them to roll out new designs at speed. The results speak for themselves, with the new e.GO electric car factory taking just two years to develop and saving the company millions of Euros. 

Günther Schuh, CEO, e.GO Mobile AG, says the 5G network will deliver faster and more reliable production with constant access to relevant information. "The assembly plant for e.GO Life is a true Industry 4.0 factory,” he said. “In other words, it is fully networked in terms of information technology. Connectivity links the physical and the digital world.”

MTU Aero Engines—one of the biggest producers of turbines, turbine parts, and turbine models—uses sensors and 5G technology to reduce the time for the process design phase by an incredible 75%.

At ARENA2036 in Stuttgart, Germany, Nokia and more than 20 partners made history with the world’s first demonstration of parallel 5G manufacturing automation use cases — proving the vision of the smart factory of the future and the power of a cross-industry innovation ecosystem. In a demo, the company showed how AGVs equipped with LIDAR (light detection and ranging), video and other sensors, and supported by 5G connectivity, can be given the situational awareness to move freely throughout a factory. These 5G-powered AGVs can identify and go around stationary obstacles — and avoid collisions with moving hazards and people. With fleet management control, these AGVs can share situational information, so if a particular aisle is blocked off, for example, all AGVs know to take a different route.

The Oulu facility manufactures LTE and 5G base stations–up to 1,000 per day–and is connected using Nokia’s “4.9G” technology to run analytics on sensor data on edge computing infrastructure; this data is used to create a “real-time digital twin of operations data.

Samuli Bergström, Regional Marketing Manager, Nordics for Omron Electronics Finland, ” Nokia said it has tallied a 30% increase in productivity and a 50% decrease in “time of product delivery to market, and an annual cost savings of millions of euros.”

In a recent analysis, Ericsson, together with Scania and Atlas Copco, outlined business scenarios in connecting power tools for tightening bolts in a smart factory. The analysis focused on power tools with electric cords or batteries (cordless). These tightening tools can be connected to a cellular network by deploying sensors onto the tools which can track location, status, and efficiency. Some of the critical drivers for connecting tools include improved safety of the work environment, increased flexibility in production and a way to achieve sustainability goals due to savings in energy costs. The potential business benefits and economic impact of connecting tightening tools include 10-15% less energy consumption, savings on maintenance costs, less need for quality inspections, and fewer tool and installation costs—covering network deployment costs with a payback below three years.

Digital Twins

Advanced connectivity can enable better and more informed decision making. By increasing the number of sensors that can be deployed, 5G networks facilitate the creation of live digital twins, replicating the manufacturing environment digitally. Allowing more thorough and accurate testing of product and plant designs, without wasting valuable time or money. Processes can also be analysed in greater detail and maximised for both efficiency and sustainability. You may feel you have already made the necessary investments in technology and connectivity but the speed, volume and reliability of 5G is unmatched.

5G will deliver for UK vehicle battery manufacturer Hyperbat, in a virtual reality digital twin proof-of-concept. Hyperbat design and engineering teams will be able to virtually walk around and interact with 3D life-size objects in real-time through a single self-contained device. Employees in different locations will be able to build a 1:1 scale physical product on the factory floor, review designs in real-time, explore form factors such as maintenance and crash detection of an electric vehicle and retrofit high-performance batteries into specific dimensions. The key enabler is the high speed, low latency and large data handling capabilities of a private 5G network.

Jeremy Spence, 5G Innovation Senior Manager, BT Enterprise Unit, who has led the proof-of-concept development says:

“The 5G digital twin solution is a powerful reminder that 5G connectivity and Edge Compute is very much here now, delivering real business benefits.  We have seen how 5G connectivity, combined with the latest technology, can produce incredible efficiency gains which are so important in boosting the UK manufacturing sector in a post-Covid recovery era.”

According to a survey from LNS research, 25% of manufacturing executives surveyed said they believe a digital twin could help increase throughput, while Hexagon found that 30% of manufacturing executives believe a digital twin would reduce costs. 

Digital twins enable manufacturers to determine how best to streamline the production environment before physically changing any processes. Designing in a digital realm before implementing in the physical world increases efficiency, productivity and reduces operational risk. This delivers several benefits, including a 10% reduction in rework, which not only has financial implications but also improves worker satisfaction. Additionally, it enables an environmentally friendly 10% reduction in scrap. 

Connected Goods

5G is a dynamic, scalable network platform that adds connectivity to individual factories as well as across supply chains and between organisations. This provides a unique ability to connect goods while they are being produced, stored and shipped, as well as once they’ve reached the end customer. Remote monitoring after the product sale can be particularly useful for manufacturers; crucial insights around how products are used can then be fed back into the design process.