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VW installs 5G network, paving way to smarter plants

19 October, 2021

Volkswagen has commissioned a standalone 5G wireless network at its main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, to test whether 5G meets the demands of vehicle production, before adopting the technology more widely in the future. One scenario being tested during the pilot phase will be to upload data wirelessly to manufactured vehicles. With increasing levels of digitisation in vehicles, large amounts of data need to be transmitted to cars during production. 5G will make it possible to perform this much faster, and at any time during production.

To build up its expertise in 5G and to ensure data security, Vokswagen is setting up and operating the 5G infrastructure itself, using equipment from Nokia. The German Federal Network Agency has allocated VW a private frequency of 3.7–3.8GHz with a 100MHz bandwidth for the Wolfsburg project. This use of an exclusive spectrum is a key to achieving the interference-free, high-availability 5G transmission that VW needs for production purposes.

“We believe that 5G technology has great potential for innovation,” says Christian Vollmer, VW’s board member responsible for production and logistics, “from the use of intelligent robots and driverless transportation systems, to networked control of plant and machinery in real time, up to wireless software flashing of manufactured vehicles.

“In implementing our Accelerate strategy, we are working at full speed to transform our Volkswagen sites into smart factories,” he adds. “Our goal is to continuously optimise our production and make it even more efficient and flexible.”

There are already around 5,000 robots operating in the Wolfsburg plant, as well as many other machines and systems. VW needs secure, delay-free data transmission to control and monitor them. One attraction of 5G it that it reduces latency – the time it takes for data to be sent through the network – significantly compared to other wireless technologies such as WLANs. With 5G, latencies can be a short as 1ms, while data transmission rates are in the gigabit range and reliability is expected to be high. VW predicts that the fast and reliable transfer of data in real-time will boost efficiency and flexibility, and make many smart factory applications possible for the first time.

The pilot project initially covers the main production development centre and the pilot hall at the Wolfsburg site. In the longer term, VW expects the network to cover large parts of the 6.5km2 site.

Volkswagen believes that high-speed, low-latency 5G wireless transmissions will open up many smart factory applications

In addition to the 5G pilot project in Wolfsburg, VW is also commissioning a “5G island” at its “Transparent Factory” in Dresden – a plant where it tests innovative technologies for pilot-scale production of its ID.3 electric vehicles. It is also developing networked control for an autonomous transportation system at the site, in collaboration with Porsche, Audi and the Dresden University of Technology. Sensors transmit data from the driverless vehicles to the cloud via 5G and this is used to calculate the best route for the vehicles to reach an ID.3 body. The information is sent back in real time.

“Efficient wireless communication in real time will be crucial for flexible production in the future,” says VW Group chief information officer, Beate Hofer. “5G has the potential to be one such driver of the Industrial Internet of Things. Our aim is therefore to build up extensive experience in the operation and industrial use of 5G technology.”

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