Ford has a long history of reviewing and optimising its production lines, starting over 100 years ago with the changes in manufacturing techniques that helped to make the Model T an iconic vehicle.
Today, the company is looking at huge changes to the way it does business – this time in preparing for the electrification of vehicles, and a Mobile Private Network (MPN) is helping to lay the groundwork for this.
Manufacturing is complex. Large, intricate machines must work together with the maximum possible efficiency and highest standards to make sure the production line keeps moving, especially in automotive. Everything has to be trialled to perfection before scaling up to full production, especially for a company like Ford with many large facilities across the world.
Ford’s E:PriME (Electrified Powertrain in Manufacturing Engineering) facility at the company’s Dunton UK Campus is therefore crucial. Here, working with a consortium of partners including Vodafone Business, Ford is experimenting with different manufacturing techniques to nail down how it builds electric engines, before taking the learnings to a global level.
I’ve written in the past about what exactly an MPN is, and in this use case it’s perfect for Ford’s needs. Within the 5GEM UK project Ford will use two mobile private networks, one at Dunton and one at TWI, a welding research organisation in Cambridge.
Why an MPN is ideal in this application becomes clear once you dig in to the detail. Building one engine for one vehicle requires over 1,000 individual welds, generating more than half a million pieces of data per minute. This data needs to be analysed in real time to check for any adjustments that are required.
Fast, reliable and high capacity data capture is therefore a must as Ford and the consortium partners experiment and finesse their methods. An MPN provides a backbone to the project, offering an ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency and highly secure communication network capable of crunching all the data generated in the welding process.
Meanwhile, any issues identified from this data analysis must be addressed. With an MPN, changes to the production line are easier than ever to make. Traditional, physically cabled machines are capable of dealing with high data outputs, but you can’t move them around the factory floor with ease.
It’s this combination of data centricity and flexibility that makes the mobile private network such a useful tool to support Ford’s research and development strategy.
Rethinking how you do business is a challenge for any organisation, but rapid changes in the market mean that it’s a must for Ford. Due to its nature, manufacturing is a tough industry in which to experiment fast, but companies operating in this space are under the same pressures to be agile that apply across sectors.
To help with this, 5G mobile private networks build in agility from the outset and mean that connectivity and data gathering are seen as standard, not as limiting factors. They also unlock the ability for businesses to bring in other next-gen technologies, like Multi-access Edge computing and AI when the time is right.
For Ford, MPN is providing a totally new way to access data and streamline manufacturing for the company, helping them to evolve their business to be ready for the future.
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