How will 5G revolutionise the manufacturing sector?

It’s a well-known fact that the UK is lagging behind its European peers when it comes to productivity. This is a key issue that the UK government is trying to tackle, with improvements to digital infrastructure a core part of the proposed solution. The government’s digital strategy outlines exactly how this will work in practice, including the role that 5G will play.

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5G is the next generation of mobile technology and is set to play a critical role in the drive for digital connectivity and enhanced productivity. Offering more than just enhanced speed, 5G has the responsiveness, concurrency and reach that is required to transform the world in which we live and work. For some industries in particular, like manufacturing, 5G will revolutionise the workplace as we know it.

Increasing manufacturing output

In the manufacturing sector, there is a huge opportunity to use 5G to improve output across its 2.6 million strong workforce. The technology promises to enable digital infrastructure to help streamline operations, which will lead to an improvement in business output. Early predictions suggest that manufacturing firms that use 5G could see as much as a 1% increase in overall productivity.

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If we consider that in Q1 2018 manufacturing output in the UK stood at £44.6 billion, then a 1% increase in output could equate to an additional £1.78 billion over the course of the year. This would have a significant impact on the UK economy, as well as supporting industry growth and helping the UK to establish itself as a global leader in manufacturing.

Smart factories

The adoption of 5G across the manufacturing industry is part of the drive for Industry 4.0, also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. A subset of Industry 4.0 is smart manufacturing, defined by The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as systems that are “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.”

This strategic application of technology is making the manufacturing process increasingly intelligent and dynamic, allowing the concept of smart factories to become a reality.

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The smart factory is an environment where machinery and equipment are able to improve processes through automation and self-optimisation, with the benefits extending beyond just the physical production of goods and into functions such as planning, supply chain logistics, and even product development.

Smart factories use new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics as they increase the number of connected industrial systems and progressively automate factory processes. The data produced from new technologies is analysed and actioned to create a dynamic production environment that is cost effective and able to guarantee a consistent level of productivity, operating at a dependably high quality in a safer working environment.

Cultivating a 5G-first workforce

As the influx of new technologies promises to revolutionise the industry, it is understandable to see palpable insecurity about the future of jobs. Just like with previous industrial revolutions, the digitisation of manufacturing will undoubtedly change the industrial landscape and will require a different set of human skills. In fact, a skills gap is already emerging in the manufacturing sector as a result of this move towards more digitised processes.

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If this skills gap is effectively managed, there is no reason why a chasm into which jobs will fall should develop. It is therefore the duty of the UK government, businesses and academic institutions to equip manufacturing workers with the digital skills they will need to flourish in the industry of the future.

In order to harness the full potential of Industry 4.0, manufacturing professionals of the future will need to adapt their skill set to meet the advances in technology. The job role of the future will demand extensive knowledge of not just the intricacies of mechanical machinery, but also a full understanding of the complex technological networks of the smart factory.

Only when the nuances of both disciplines have been mastered and the smart factory floor is filled with this hybrid engineer can the intelligent, dynamic manufacturing process of the future be truly optimised.

With this in mind, business leaders will need to be prepared to make the necessary strategic investments into employee training to future proof their organisations and ensure they maintain a competitive edge.

Igniting a brighter future

From business output to a more dynamic workforce, 5G has the power to completely transform the manufacturing sector. Although the fruits of 5G might be a few years away, the cultivation needs to begin now if we are to have the most fertile environment in place.

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We need to test the technology, we need to explore new opportunities for experimentation and product development and we need to implement the right regulations and incentivise businesses to build the future workforce and infrastructure.

The 5G spotlight is now firmly on the manufacturing sector, set to lead the way in the adoption of the new technology for economic gain. May other sectors look, learn and share.


Sourced by Brendan Lynch, board Member of the Worcestershire 5G Consortium

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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Industry 4.0
Smart Factory