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Ford installs first private 5G network at a UK automotive site

02 July, 2020

The car-maker Ford is installing what is thought to be first private 5G network at an automotive site in the UK. The installation, partly funded by the UK Government, will replace older WiFi networks at Ford’s new E:PriME (Electrified Powertrain in Manufacturing Engineering) facility in Dunton, Essex. The 5G technology will be used to improve the connectivity of welding processes used to manufacture batteries and motors for electric vehicles.

The E:PriME installation is part of a project called 5GEM (5G Enabled Manufacture) – to which the UK government is contributing almost £2m – which will also include the installation of a second private 5G network at the welding research and technology organisation TWI, in Cambridge.

The 5G systems will be used to implement real-time control of equipment at both sites, as well as providing remote expert analysis and support, and helping to make new manufacturing processes shopfloor-ready.

The batteries and motors used in a typical EV require around 1,000 welds. The processes needed to produce these for a single vehicle can generate more than a half a million pieces of data every minute. Fast, reliable, high-capacity data capture and analysis is therefore essential for developing these processes, but traditional Wi-Fi struggles to support the large amounts of data.

“Connecting today’s shopfloor requires significant time and investment,” explains Ford’s 5GEM project leader, Chris White. “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.”

Other members of the 5GEM consortium – including ATS, TM Forum, HSSMI and Lancaster University – will work on aspects such as cyber-security, scaling up, standards, machine learning and developing 5G technologies for industrial environments. TWI Cambridge will help Vacuum Furnace Engineering to connect its heat-treatment equipment vi 5G.

The 5G private networks for Ford and TWI are being supplied by Vodafone Business and will be installed this year. Vodafone says they will overcome many of the issues affecting wireless connections in industrial settings, and should reduce delays, widen bandwidths, improve security and reliability, and accelerate deployment.

The 5G system will be installed at Ford's ePrime (electrified powertrain for manufacturing engineering) site in Essex

“MPN (mobile private network) technology makes the factory of the future possible,” says Vodafone Business CEO, Vinod Kumar. “It allows machines and computing power to coordinate in real time, improving precision, efficiency and safety.”

The 5GEM project is part of £65m package of support for 5G developments announced by the Government earlier this year. This included £30m for projects that are using 5G to connect rural communities, a £30m competition to promote the use of 5G in the creative industries, and more than £5m for two industrial projects – including 5GEM.

In the second industrial project, called 5G-Encode, a consortium led by Zeetta, is implementing a £9m project at the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol.

The ten-member consortium – including Telefonica, Siemens, Toshiba, Solvay and Baker Hughes – is examining new business models for private mobile networks in the manufacturing sector. It is investigating three applications where 5G network splicing and slicing technology could improve the productivity and effectiveness of composite design and manufacture: interactive augmented reality (AR); asset tracking across multiple sites and locations; and industrial system management.

When he announced the £65m scheme, Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “We’re determined to harness this revolutionary technology to boost the productivity and growth of UK industries. We want Britain to be a world leader in 5G.”

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