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The role of mixed reality in Ford’s changing workplace

29 Mar 2022

Chris Allen

Global Product Manager for Mobile Private Networks, Vodafone Business

The automotive industry is changing. The European Commission’s goal to cut 100% of vehicle CO2 emissions by 2035, alongside expectations from customers, investors, and employees, has encouraged car manufacturers to start moving towards a greener and more sustainable future.

One way they are doing this is through the move to electric vehicles.

This requires a big shake up in the way these businesses operate. Instead of creating transmissions, exhausts and internal combustion engines, manufacturing teams need to produce batteries, electronics and electric motors.

Technology can support this new production line, but also help develop and upskill the people on the factory floor creating the workforce of the future.

The journey so far

Working with Ford in the UK, we’ve been supporting this transition, using 5G technology to connect and improve these new production techniques with the aim of rolling out this learned, best practice globally.

We started by creating a mobile private network (MPN) at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre in Essex that delivers the wireless connectivity its factory needs to speed up electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing.

When it comes to the welding process, the batteries and electric motors in an EV require around a thousand welds. For a single car, this could generate more than half a million pieces of data every minute making resilient and fast connectivity a must.

Using a 5G MPN, Ford have a wider bandwidth and can reduce delays, improve security and reliability, and speed up deployment time.

For example, changes to the production line can be made quickly and easily and because it can now capture images and use AI during and after the welding process, the machinery can spot if a weld isn’t up to standard and easily re-weld the affected part straight away, whilst it’s still in the machine. The team at Ford tells us more:

Input from the experts

To ensure best practice and to reskill the workforce, Ford needs remote advice and support and that’s where immersive technologies like Mixed Reality can help. Providing instant access to experts, such as The Welding Institute in Cambridge, wherever they are.

Mixed Reality overlays digital content onto the real world in the form of holograms. This means that experts located off-site can create training and safety instructions directly overlaid onto the machines, ensuring safe and consistent maintenance every single time.

On-demand replay also captures, retains and disseminates information and, if needed, Ford’s engineering team have the option to seek real-time instructions from specialists via headsets such as Microsoft HoloLens, for help diagnosing and fixing problems.

Tomorrow’s technology, today

As hybrid working becomes the norm, there will be more of a call for immersive, virtual technologies that can bridge the gap between people working in offices and those working remotely. But for Ford, it isn’t just about the employee experience, it’s about laying the digital foundations today, ready for the tech of tomorrow.

For instance, 5G makes it possible for Ford to deploy automated guided vehicles and AI systems in the future. This will support the flexible facilities car manufacturers will need to be able to quickly reconfigure production lines, especially as customisation in cars increases.

Find out how Mixed Reality can support and develop your team to become fit for the future.

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