In the Nordic countries, there has been a recent surge in trials in 5G-enabled manufacturing. One notable trial combined ultra-low latency and high bandwidth aspects of 5G with machine learning to enhance production. Another demonstrated ways to produce blade integrated disks – or blisks – for aero engines, much more quickly, in theory saving millions of euros through increased efficiencies and reducing pollution.

While it is by no means clear whether such 5G-led approaches will be widely adopted, it seems fair to argue that, through 5G, wireless could have a role in manufacturing that it might not have had before. This bandwagon seems to be gaining passengers.

But not necessarily in the UK, where trials bringing 5G together with manufacturing have certainly taken place but the enthusiasm of the Nordic countries for 5G in manufacturing is not, apparently matched.

Which, on the face of it, is odd. Manufacturing forms a large part of UK output and income. The Nordic examples suggest that the UK manufacturing sector should be taking a more optimistic approach to deploying 5G to support the sort of Industry 4.0 initiatives pioneered in Germany to bring forward the digitisation of the manufacturing sector and thereby increase efficiency. However, there are still good reasons for caution.

Many of those relate to the fact that Industry 4.0 – a popular term for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – is not just about technology, but about culture, jobs and processes.

“Current manufacturing workers at all levels have expressed a hunger for change and believe that they can and should play an important role in that change,” said authors Faith McCreary and Irene Petrick of Intel. “They believed that the future factory would still need people – although maybe fewer of them and in vastly differently roles. Harnessing this enthusiasm will lead to solutions that are powerful, that have buy-in, and that can be communicated in a way which presents the changes as solutions to the problems workers care about today.” 

So what should happen next? Of course, if 5G really can transform UK manufacturing, then hanging back until a competing country applies it successfully would be unwise. On the other hand, workforces may be alienated rather than enthused by technology if change isn’t handled sensitively.

But can the new 5G/Industry 4.0 world satisfy all participants? It has to. If there’s one message that we have received loud and clear over the decades in which our experts have assessed and helped to apply the wireless potential of 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, IoT and more, it’s this: managing change is as important as driving it.

“Which, on the face of it, is odd. Manufacturing forms a large part of UK output and income. The Nordic examples suggest that the UK manufacturing sector should be taking a more optimistic approach to deploying 5G to support the sort of Industry 4.0 initiatives pioneered in Germany to bring forward the digitisation of the manufacturing sector and thereby increase efficiency. However, there are still good reasons for caution.

Many of those relate to the fact that Industry 4.0 – a popular term for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – is not just about technology, but about culture, jobs and processes.”

 

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