AE Aerospace launches 5G trials to transform manufacturing productivity – working with leading 5G partners

AE Aerospace, a leading manufacturing business in the West Midlands, will be the first UK SME to deploy a 5G private network and will work together with West Midlands 5G (WM5G), Worcestershire 5G(W5G) and its technology partner BT, on three new 5G use cases set to transform manufacturing productivity.

AE Aerospace operates a high precision engineering facility and produces parts for high-profile customers, including Rolls Royce, Raytheon UK and Moog. AE Aerospace has an ambitious growth strategy and believes that all three 5G-enabled trials delivered via this project will not only improve productivity but provide existing clients with a better quality of service, as well as creating new business models and new revenue opportunities.

In trialling 5G, powered by BT’s world class EE mobile network, 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 re-work or replace damaged components impaired in transit. Through these trials, AE Aerospace aspire to set a precedent to bring the SME aerospace sector forward and into line in terms of ‘on time, in full’ delivery.

Manufacturing is a critical sector for the UK economy and the Midlands is the heartland of UK industry. Manufacturing in the Midlands generates more than £32 billion GVA a-year and accounts for 22% of jobs. Despite the prevalence of large manufacturers in the Midlands, most of the value of the output in Manufacturing comes from the SME businesses which make up these organisations’ supply chains.

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted the manufacturing sector. New Industry 4.0 technologies – including 5G – have the potential to power recovery by transforming manufacturing productivity. 5G enables productivity improvements by connecting sensors on machines securely and in real-time to data platforms and applications to optimise processes and equipment.

Recognising the criticality of the manufacturing sector, a group of leading 5G businesses have come together to co-invest in these pioneering trials. WM5G is the UK’s first region-wide 5G innovation company and forms part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), 5G Tests and Trials programme. These trials are the first projects in WM5G’s Manufacturing testbed. WM5G will be supporting these trials working closely with W5G and its strategic technology partner BT, to integrate the technology infrastructure required to deliver these unique 5G trials. As part of the project, BT’s 5G connectivity will 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 Servitization’, 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. By tagging all the gauges, their location can be tracked and identified in real time over 5G, AE Aerospace will increase its speed and accuracy of measurement as a result.

Finally, AE Aerospace and WM5G will experiment with 5G to improve ‘Product Quality Assurance’ by eliminating the need to re-work 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.

The key learnings and best practice from these trials will be shared with the region’s manufacturing industry to help accelerate the adoption of 5G technology within the sector. Any efficiencies and productivity gains that AE Aerospace and WM5G prove from these trials could also be replicated across the sector to support the region’s economic growth.

Peter Bruch, Managing Director at AE Aerospace, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by WM5G, W5G & BT to develop the 5G Technology which will fast forward our Glass Factory, Servitized programme; by improving our productivity & flexibility, reducing costs and lead time for our customers.  Post Covid and BREXIT, we believe that this support will be a driving force, enabling the UK Manufacturing sector to compete on the world stage.”

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Manufacturing is the bedrock of the West Midlands economy and the ability to harness the power of 5G and other new technologies will help our manufacturers to not only remain competitive in a fierce global marketplace but put themselves at the cutting edge.

“We face a massive challenge to get our economy back on track once this pandemic is finally over and we must capitalise on new technology to supercharge that recovery. By winning the Government competition to become the UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed, our region and it’s businesses are in a unique position to test and prove the opportunity for 5G to transform manufacturing productivity.”

Sarah Walker, BT director for corporate and public sector in the Midlands, 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. 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.”

Robert Franks, Managing Director at WM5G, added: “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.”

WM5G Limited is a multi-million-pound programme that both the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and DCMS have set-up to develop the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed. DCMS expects to invest over £20m in this programme, in addition to substantial West Midlands public sector and private investment (October 2018 to March 2022).