5G Network to Speed Up EV production

Article By : Nitin Dahad

EV batteries and motors require around 1,000 welds. So Ford will use private 5G to handle all that data capture and analysis...

A dedicated 5G network to be deployed at a new Ford electric vehicle plant in the next few months will focus on enabling fast reliable data capture and analysis from connected welding machines.

The 5G mobile private network will be delivered by Vodafone Business at the new E:PriME (electrified powertrain in manufacturing engineering) facility on Ford’s Dunton campus in the UK. A Vodafone spokesperson told EE Times Europe, “This is a dedicated private network built exclusively for Ford at the Ford campus. It is separate from our public network. All of the network infrastructure (core and radio) is supplied by Ericsson – based on Ford’s needs, Ericsson equipment was the best fit for this use case.”

The project is being delivered as part of a British government funded 5G trial announced earlier this year. Out of the total £65 million package of projects funded across the UK, £1.95 million was allocated to the 5GEM (5G enabled manufacture) trial, where two Vodafone mobile networks are being installed. One of these is at Ford focusing on connectivity of welding processes used in the manufacture of electric vehicles, and the other at TWI in Cambridge to support vacuum furnace engineering in connecting the heat treatment equipment.

The batteries and electric motors within an EV require around 1,000 welds. For a single EV product, this could generate more than half a million pieces of data every minute. Fast, reliable, high capacity data capture and analysis will be a significant requirement of these processes. This amount of welding and data cannot be supported by existing factory systems so 5G has been chosen as a system to assist in line with an Industry 4.0 approach.

Connected welding machines at Ford will use a private 5G network to handle data capture and analysis (Image: Ford)

Connecting the data with experts such as TWI and manufacturers is critical if processes are to develop at the same rate as the product innovations demand. Hence as part of this same project, TWI is working with vacuum furnace specialists VFE on a brazing application using 5G technology. The aim is to improve the consistency and quality of components during heat treating cycles. The work will also demonstrate the challenges of integrating 5G while also showing how integration works with adjacent machines and manufacturing execution systems.

Both sites’ connected equipment (at Ford and at TWI) will offer real-time control, analysis and remote expert support, ensuring new manufacturing processes are ready for the factory floor.

The lead at Ford for the 5GEM project, Chris White, said, “Connecting today’s shop floor requires significant time and investment. Present technology can be the limiting factor in reconfiguring and deploying next-gen manufacturing systems. 5G presents the opportunity to transform the speed of launch and flexibility of present manufacturing facilities, moving us towards tomorrow’s plants connected to remote expert support and artificial intelligence.”

The Vodafone Business CEO, Vinod Kumar, added, “5G mobile private networks act as a springboard for organizations, allowing them to rethink the way they do business. In this case, MPN (mobile private network) technology makes the factory of the future possible. It allows machines and computing power to coordinate in real time, improving precision, efficiency and safety. We’re excited to help Ford plan for the future of its business.”

The British government had announced in February the funding of two industrial manufacturing projects for 5G trials and testbeds. One was the Ford 5GEM project as described above. The other was for a project called 5G ENCODE at the National Composites Centre in Bristol, led by Zeetta Networks, which received £3.82 million government funding.

The ENCODE project will examine new business models for private mobile networks in the manufacturing sector. It will investigate three key industrial 5G use cases to improve productivity and effectiveness of composite design and manufacture: interactive augmented reality (AR); asset tracking across multiple sites and locations; and industrial system management. The consortium comprises ten companies including Telefonica, Siemens, Toshiba, Solvay and Baker Hughes. Zeetta will be offering its multi-domain orchestration technology based on 5G network splicing and slicing.

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