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AMRC demos UK’s first, fully operational standalone 5G factory of the future

Centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value manufacturing sectors shows transformative effect of standalone 5G in £10m+ UK government-backed project

UK manufacturers are another step closer to creating a more adaptable manufacturing ecosystem, with advantages in manufacturing efficiency and flexibility, thanks to the delivery of the UK’s first, fully operational 5G Standalone (5G SA) testbed, according to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

Backed by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, and boasting a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and providing a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide, AMRC claims to be a world-class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value manufacturing sectors.

Combining cutting-edge technologies with expertise in design and prototyping, machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites, robotics and automation, digital manufacturing, and structural testing, AMRC said it has created a manufacturing resource far beyond anything previously available in the UK.

Engineers from AMRC North West have just hosted the 5G Factory of the Future (FoF) programme close-out event, alongside project partners.

A total of 75 people, including businesses, manufacturers and academics, attended the event to hear the project outcomes and discover first-hand how 5G is making a difference through live, cutting-edge demos.

The £10m+ project, which completed at the end of March 2023, was part-funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) – as part of its £200m investment in its 5G Testbed and Trials programme. It also received match funding from industry.

Delivery of the project, launched in December 2020, was managed by a consortium of industrial and academic leaders from the UK manufacturing and telecommunications sectors. Alongside AMRC as project lead, the consortium included BAE Systems, Digital Catapult, Fuuse, IBM, AQL and MTT.

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Kostas Katsaros, lead 5G technologist at Digital Catapult – a digital technology innovation centre at the heart of recent UK government-backed moves to boost the power of 5G – said that 5G has the power to transform manufacturing by enabling faster and more reliable communication between machines, people and systems.

“As the technical design authority for the project, we were able to offer private cellular network deployment and integration capability for manufacturing and industrial domains, enabling early experimentation for specific use cases, a critical part of showcasing the potential of 5G technology in an industrial environment to drive value, quickly build capability and deliver tangible impact,” he said.

Aparajithan Sivanathan, project lead for the 5G Factory of the Future programme and head of digital technology at AMRC North West, said: “The 5G FoF project has successfully delivered the largest manufacturing testbed in the UK, with 5G standalone capability, proven working 5G use cases and developed native 5G devices. We have also created a business model that will sustain the testbed beyond the end of the project. 5G is going to be the future, and we’re now thinking about the next phase.”

Keith Bullock, 5G programme director for digital infrastructure, said: “5G FoF was one of 38 projects in the 5G Testbed and Trials programme, and I think we now understand quite a lot around how things do and don’t work.

“It’s been brilliant to have a British manufacturing organisation like BAE Systems, coupled with some top vendors, some innovative SMEs and a whole package brought together by AMRC North West, that has been built for innovation and sharing information,” he said.

“We feel hugely positive about the future, and we have learnt how little we know – and that the way to do this from a government point of view is to not over-define, but to leave it open and allow companies and experts like you to tell us what we should be doing.”

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