We recently caught up with Ste Ashton to discuss industrial 5G ahead of our upcoming Connected Britain event, which is being held in London this September.
Can you introduce yourself and your current role?
Hi, I’m Ste Ashton Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity Manager at Worcestershire County Council responsible for the broadband deployment projects, 5G projects and other aspects of digital connectivity; I am also lead at nexGworx, a new company established following the Industry 4.0 and Security focussed Worcestershire 5G Testbed.
What do you think will be the key use case or killer app that will support the business case for 5G in manufacturing?
I don’t think there will be one killer application or use case, there are some individual use cases that do require 5G on their own merit, but I believe in most cases the installation of private 5G networks will be best justified when there are several applications, that when operating together, require the benefits that 5G offers.
If I was pushed for one, the flexibility that a 5G or WiFi 6 solution offers across a factory floor over fixed cable, means businesses can be far more agile and responsive to demand without unnecessary downtime to re-cable, but also opening up new models such as ‘machine as a service / shared machines.’
I also think that by combining several use cases there will be an increased importance on ‘artificial intelligence’ based solutions to bring the full picture and appropriate response together.
How do see you the role of 5G evolving in manufacturing?
I’d be the first to say it should not be technology for technology’s sake, it is important for manufacturing businesses to understand the specific benefits of 5G or other technologies, their needs today and their likely needs over a medium-term horizon; asking what challenges could it answer and what problems does it solve? In some cases, you might even not know of a problem or just be accepting it as a given.
That said, almost every business that I have worked with, that having defined their 5G application, has modified and grown it, found new applications, and recognised much wider potential benefits. A point that means my earlier response that multiple use cases strengthen the business case for 5G shouldn’t be a concern.
Like with Lean and Six Sigma principles introduced in previous decades, we are likely to see a downwards push through supply-chains as tier one manufacturers are more likely to be the early adopters, who then want increasing visibility and information down the supply chain. However, those early adopters in the mid-supply chain have great potential both up and downstream.
What have been the main takeaways from Worcestershire’s successful testbed and trials programme?
Productivity gains from improvements in process, quality control, health and safety, customer experience and a greener agenda are all achievable.
The importance of Security by Design and security testing, both in terms of the network but also in the applications / use cases. Security and resilience will continue to be an important point that manufacturers will want to be convinced of. One concern, as an example, is there is a larger number of devices increasing the potential attack surface, this is countered by security which is designed into 5G such as network access control, strong mutual authentication, and encryption. I would like to see some sort of security ‘kite mark’ for networks and solutions to help manufacturers with this. Our partner QinetiQ has a wealth of experience in this field and following the project developed a suite of products they have commercially available.
Organisations need to ensure they have a mature view of the business cases, the benefits that can be realised and how the benefits and costs can be shared appropriately with partners or equally for larger corporates within their own divisions.
We must recognise that there are new releases of 5G standards on the horizon and some of the benefits that are talked about are set to improve further still. To this point it is important that some manufacturers look to invest in the digital connectivity awareness and skills within their organisation, at all levels from the board level and their change champions to the shop floor to ensure opportunities are not missed.
Testbed as a Service can offer manufacturers and solutions providers an opportunity to get a taste of the capability of the new connectivity technologies and the applications that utilise them without an initial high capital outlay.
You can visit www.nexGworx.co.uk
for examples of our case studies, reports and video content from both the Worcestershire 5G project and our experience since.
What are you most looking forward to about Connected Britain?
Meeting some familiar and new faces in person for the first time in some time, sharing our experiences of testbed as a service in manufacturing and having conversations about private networks, neutral host models and improving digital connectivity for businesses and communities.
Is the UK set to remain a leader in industrial connectivity? Join Ste and our other experts at this year’s Connected Britain conference.