The Scotland 5G Centre has announced the development of a private 5G network at a new R&D facility in collaboration with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland’s specialist AFRC and LMC centres.
It is the first of its kind in Scotland, and according to experts could help create the “next revolution in Scotland’s manufacturing base.”
Although still in its formative stages, 5G is expected to be a critical part of a range of new concepts in manufacturing, such as the live streaming of engineering instructions to machines, machine-to-machine communication, and the implementation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).
Access to state-of-the-art infrastructure will allow manufacturers to trial new business models, technologies and concepts, by connecting equipment, monitoring data in real-time, and supporting the application of machine learning algorithms.
5G experts said that, in practice, this should enable factories to operate more efficiently, safely, and with greater autonomy.
In July 2019 Ofcom opened ‘shared spectrum’, which allowed individuals and organisations to create their own private mobile networks.
Malcolm Brew, a 5G senior research fellow at the University of Strathclyde, commented: “5G means different things to different people, but in an industrial context is much more than just another number – it is going to be very different to its predecessors.
“While it is not yet fully baked, 5G will help manufacturers break the mould and create a lot of opportunities for new applications and even business models.
“The use of Ofcom’s ‘shared spectrum framework’ policy will be a major enabler in building new private 5G networks and bring opportunities for featuring shared radio access with other mobile operators and vendors, using neutral hosting strategies.
“Through a network of networks – whether they are Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or LoRaWan – next-generation connectivity can help manufacturers securely integrate their existing technologies to link millions of devices, which will give them much better visibility of their processes and equipment. “
As a first step, a consortium of partners – comprising of The Scotland 5G Centre, University of Strathclyde, and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) – is developing a network at the NMIS specialist technology centres, the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and Lightweight Manufacturing Centre (LMC), in Renfrewshire.
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Paul Coffey, CEO of the Scotland 5G Centre, added: “The use of 5G in this way underlines how very different it will be to 4G and its previous iterations, and Scotland has the opportunity to be at the forefront of the seismic changes that it will sweep through manufacturing and other sectors in the years ahead.
“The Scotland 5G Centre is here to accelerate the deployment and adoption of 5G infrastructure and services, realising its economic and societal potential for Scotland and enabling all types of businesses to reap the benefits of this new technology.”
Planned to be deployed in six months, it will trial the use of 5G in a manufacturing context and act as an exemplar for others to follow.
Once use cases are proven, it is anticipated they will be adopted by manufacturers across the country, creating their own pop-up private networks.
Danny McMahon, metrology and digital team lead at the AFRC added: “The application of 5G to manufacturing is still very new – the full benefits haven’t yet been realised and there is little understanding of what the return on investment might be.
“With the creation of this new private network, we’re aiming to see what value can be unlocked with state-of-the-art connectivity and prove the use cases that many people have talked about, but are still to be delivered.
“We will then be able to advise the industry what is and is not possible and practical for them to adopt.”