Industry 4.0 unlocking true productivity in manufacturing


Written by Riccardo Weber, Manufacturing Innovation Lead, West Midlands 5G

Improving speed and efficiency and generating true productivity has long been the goal for ambitious manufacturers, with digital maturity and advanced connectivity the next frontiers in maintaining competitiveness against other players in the market.The Forth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, aligns connectivity, smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) and analysis within the factory settings.

A world of new possibilities awaits those willing to embark on a journey to advanced connectivity, with some already embracing elements such as connected devices, automation, and artificial intelligence. However, in order to realise the benefits of these technologies and ensure long-term productivity gains, we must lay the foundations of strong and reliable connectivity now.  


The connectivity revolution

According to the World Economic Forum, Industry 4.0 is anticipated to generate a value of £2,7 trillion worldwide by 2025. It is clear a lot could be gained by exploring how connectivity can support smarter manufacturing and improve productivity within our factories.

The UK has long been a leading manufacturing nation and today manufacturing product sales total over £358.7 billion (ONS, 2020). Around 20% of this output stems from the West Midlands, a contribution of 3.6% to the UK GVA. 

Industry 4.0 technologies – including 5G enabled solutions – will power the post-pandemic financial recovery, transforming productivity in manufacturing and allowing us to safeguard out space among leading manufacturing nations.  


Disrupt or be disrupted

The adoption of digital technology in existing and new production facilities is expected to result in significant manufacturing productivity improvements. These are estimated to be from 30% to 35% by 2030 according to the Government’s MADE SMARTER review. 

The secret to unlocking these significant improvements and paving the way towards true productivity is the improved network capabilities provided by 5G, making it a pivotal technology for manufacturers.

The fifth generation of mobile data, (5G), promises truly transformational opportunities for businesses, bringing greater capacity, lower latency, rapid and secure transfers of huge data volumes, and allowing thousands of 5G-enabled devices to be used through one network.

With a wide variety of connected devices gathering and sharing information in real time, 5G can deliver a diverse range of potential applications: from guiding autonomous vehicles to production lines that can automatically adjust processes, real time detailed quality control for produced components, and tracking of gauges and measures around the work setting.


The digital journey

West Midlands 5G (WM5G) is supporting manufacturers in their digital journeys and is working closely with leading enterprises such as AE Aerospace and specialist hubs like the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in establishing private 5G networks and trialling use cases for new, connected concepts.

One of the projects being trialled is the Vision Intelligence system, which analyses manufactured components for minor deviations and imperfections such as scratches which could result in the component falling outside of the acceptable quality tolerances. 

Combining 5G’s ability to transmit large amounts of data with AI and edge computing the system can be taught the parameters for acceptability and scan each component in the fraction of the time required for a manual check, freeing up staff to take on other responsibilities along the manufacturing plant. 

For AE Aerospace, 5G is a key component in the delivery of its ‘Glass Factory’ concept, where customers and supply chain partners can receive up-to-the-moment confirmation of where in the production process their component is. By networking machines involved in the process and utilising an advanced AI to coordinate activity, delays in production can be mitigated and accounted for, creating greater delivery certainty. 

WM5G’s work supports manufacturing businesses of all sizes from SMEs to larger-scale manufacturers, on their journey to greater productivity via Manufacturing – The Digital Journey. This series of five workshops has been designed to support greater understanding by a manufacturer of their own digital journey and help them to adopt or hasten deployment of new technologies. 

Manufacturers can join us at the step in the journey which is most loosely aligned with their current digital experience, ensuring that information provided is relevant and they’re getting the most appropriate level of support – from Digital Novice to Digital Disruptor. 

To find out more or explore how you can become achieve true productivity in your operations please visit West Midlands 5G’s Manufacturing Digital Journey page

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