Five organisations including Nokia and BT have collaborated on a 5G trial to demonstrate how 5G-connected robotics, computer vision and edge computing can ‘boost’ UK manufacturing.

West Midlands 5G, nexGworx, BT and Nokia teamed up to deploy the 5G private network at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, a project which is part of the government’s 5G testbeds and Trails programme.

The point of setting up this ‘demonstrator system’ is apparently to trial various 5G applications within manufacturing environments, including 5G-connected robotics, computer vision and edge computing. One specific function the trial involved an ‘automated inspection process’ which was supposed to prove how robots connected via 5G could do the rounds of a factory to check for minute component errors using HD cameras, for example, which would apparently take ages for a human to do.

“We’re pleased to play such an important role alongside our innovative technology partners in a manufacturing trial of this magnitude,” said Phil Siveter, CEO Nokia UK. “5G is modernizing industries around the world by providing the network reliability and performance that’s needed to support their digitalization journeys to Industry 4.0. As is demonstrated with these stellar results from MTC, standalone private 5G can today enable manufacturers to automate and digitalize their production processes to greatly improve the productivity, efficiency and sustainability of their operations.”

Alejandra Matamoros, Technology Manager in the MTC’s Digital Engineering Group added: “Conventional production environments often require in-person inspection of components, which not only use valuable work hours but can result in human error. Automating this process enables skilled staff to focus on more valuable tasks, seamlessly generate records of part quality, and allows to efficiently increase quality checks. Continued testing and the sharing of learnings and best practice are the key to future innovation and development.

Our connected facility at the MTC will allow manufacturers of all sizes, research, and technology suppliers to explore the benefits of 5G in manufacturing. Through our enduring collaboration with nexGworx and BT we are now planning to further build on the initial capability we’ve created here at the MTC to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with the help of 5G technology.”

Speaking of 5G flavoured industrial gubbins, Nokia also announced today that it has teamed up with NS Solutions to set up a 5G automation centre in Japan for OMRON, which is designed to improve efficiency in manufacturing processes.

Donny Janssens, Head of Customer Team Enterprise Japan, at Nokia, said: “We are excited to work with NSSOL to enable OMRON to use the latest digital solutions to provide exceptional customer experience to their customers. With Nokia’s 5G solution and NSSOL’s installation and maintenance services, OMRON’s Automation Center will enable its customers to test new solutions and enhance manufacturing efficiency by resolving manufacturing-related issues before they lead to downtime.”

This is what they call predictive maintenance in the manufacturing world, and it’s a core part of what’s referred to as ‘industry 4.0’ – which is broadly about bringing in tech like 5G to enhance and streamline the capabilities of factories. It might not be as bombastic as some of the more consumer focussed applications of 5G, but there’s an awful lot of it being deployed within the UK manufacturing sector by the likes of Ericsson and Nokia and it does represent functioning, presumably beneficial use cases. And as supply chain issues an geopolitics continue to push the case for more ‘onshoring’ manufacturing capabilities, you can expect to see much more of it in places like the UK.

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