In the latest project involving the region’s leading next-generation network hub, West Midlands 5G (WM5G), leading UK manufacturing firm AE Aerospace is claiming to be the first UK small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) to deploy a 5G private network and has announced three 5G use cases set to transform manufacturing productivity.
Established in 1996, AE Aerospace operates a high-precision engineering facility and produces parts for high-profile customers, including Rolls-Royce, Raytheon UK and Moog. It manufactures low- to medium-volume prototype components, through to original equipment and higher volume manufacture, plus spares and legacy parts.
The company has an ambitious growth strategy and believes that all three 5G-enabled trials delivered via this project will not only improve productivity but also provide existing clients with a better quality of service, as well as creating new business models and new revenue opportunities.
And in establishing context for the investment in next-generation networks, AE Aerospace noted that it is based in the heartland of UK manufacturing, a critical sector for the UK economy and the Midlands industry. It said manufacturing in the Midlands generates more than £32bn gross value added a year and accounts for 22% of jobs.
Yet despite the prevalence of large manufacturers in the Midlands, such as major automotive and aerospace firms, most of the value of the output in manufacturing comes from the SMEs which make up these organisations’ supply chains. However, the sector has been greatly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
To address this concern, AE Aerospace sees Industry 4.0 technologies – including 5G – as having the potential to power recovery by transforming manufacturing productivity. It believes that 5G enables productivity improvements by connecting sensors on machines securely and in real time to data platforms and applications in order to optimise processes and equipment.
In trialling 5G, the aerospace manufacturer hopes to attain significant benefits, including the ability to maximise machine time, provide more accurate assurance that parts have been machined to specification with increased speed and efficiency, as well as being able to eliminate the need to rework or replace damaged components impaired in transit.
In addition to WM5G, the wireless networking trials will be delivered by Worcestershire 5G (W5G) and its technology partner BT’s EE mobile network. Through the trials, AE Aerospace hopes to set a precedent to bring the SME aerospace sector forward and into line in terms of “on time, in full” delivery.
These trials are the first projects in WM5G’s manufacturing testbed and the partners will integrate the technology infrastructure required to deliver what they say are unique trials underpinned by 5G connectivity that can deliver the high reliability, high capacity and fast response times needed to support the private network deployment and 5G use case trials.
The first 5G use case, known as Machine Time Servitisation, will see high-quality wireless 5G and a range of sensors installed across the factory floor to enable wireless connectivity between machines, allowing high-volume data capture. The ability to understand production flows and machine time utilisation is what will enable AE Aerospace to offer machine time to its clients.
A mobile asset location and calibration tracking trial will allow AE Aerospace to provide 100% assurance that its parts have been machined and measured to specification. Production units have many surfaces, holes and screw threads that must be measured manually with gauges, and by tagging all the gauges, their location can be tracked and identified in real time over 5G. AE Aerospace said it would be able to increase its speed and accuracy of measurement as a result.
In the third trial, AE Aerospace and WM5G will experiment with 5G to improve product quality assurance by eliminating the need to rework or replace damaged components. By utilising a private 5G network, real-time ultra-high definition image comparison can take place to ensure product quality assurance prior to AE Aerospace shipping out products to customers.
AE Aerospace said that key learnings and best practices from these trials would be shared with the region’s manufacturing industry to help accelerate the adoption of 5G technology within the sector. It added that any efficiencies and productivity gains proved from the trials could also be replicated across the sector to support the region’s economic growth.
“We are delighted to have been chosen by WM5G, W5G and BT to develop the 5G technology that will fast-forward our Glass Factory, Servitised programme by improving our productivity and flexibility, and reducing costs and lead time for our customers,” commented AE Aerospace managing director Peter Bruch.
“After Covid and Brexit, we believe this support will be a driving force, enabling the UK manufacturing sector to compete on the world stage,” he added.
“This latest investment reinforces BT’s commitment in working with WM5G and W5G to support regional businesses in adopting innovative technologies to significantly enhance workplace productivity,” said Sarah Walker, BT director for corporate and public sector in the Midlands.
“As we’ve seen through our work with W5G and Worcester Bosch, 5G is the perfect enabler for Industry 4.0, and presents unprecedented control, transparency and understanding of operations. The 5G Private Network will not only drive operational efficiencies and accelerate digital transformation for AE Aerospace, but it will also stimulate economic rejuvenation of the manufacturing sector, a critical industry for the West Midlands and the wider UK,” she added.
WM5G managing director Robert Franks remarked: “West Midlands 5G is committed to supporting the recovery and growth of the manufacturing sector by transforming productivity. The trials AE Aerospace are undertaking with us will clearly illustrate the value of 5G for manufacturers, not only across the West Midlands, but the whole UK. We are excited to get underway and to deliver some cutting-edge results with the support of Worcestershire 5G and BT as our technology partners.”
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