Tuesday 2 July 2019

Vodafone and Ericsson develop ‘Industry 4.0’ factory in Germany

Automotive 5G manufacturing production is now a reality due to the efforts of Vodafone and Ericsson who were challenged by e.GO  to help them to develop an ‘industry 4.0’ factory to help them gain a competitive advantage through the use of mobile technology.

e.GO was founded by Professor Günther Schuh, often characterised as Germany’s answer to Elon Musk, who is very much on a mission to create more affordable electric vehicles. The company was founded out of RWTH Aachen University in 2015 where the Professor was vice-rector for Industry and Business Relations. By then he had already developed an electric delivery van, StreetScooter, a company that was bought by Deutsche Post in 2014.   Thanks to an array of StreetScooter vehicles and some 12,000 e-bikes and e-trikes, Deutsche Post DHL Group today operates the largest electric fleet in Germany.

Professor Schuh, now focusing on the 5G network believes it will deliver faster and more reliable production with constant access to relevant information:

"The assembly plant for e.GO Life is a true Industry 4.0 factory. In other words, it is fully networked in terms of information technology. Connectivity links the physical and the digital world.”
While according to Hannes Ametsreiter, Head of Vodafone Germany:
 "Our automotive industry needs a fast network directly where the newest and most innovative cars are built. Data is an important fuel for modern automobile production.”
While Arun Bansal, President and Head of Europe & Latin America, Ericsson, says:
 "5G is the key to opening the door to a new era in manufacturing productivity, speed, security and efficiency – and the automotive industry is a prime example of the beneficiaries. Our 5G technology leadership, including solutions and abilities specifically tailored to manufacturing, enables us to partner with companies such as Vodafone and e.GO to deliver the very best private networks solutions."
This 4.0 factory is a model that many other European companies might look to in the future. 

The 16,000m2 e.GO site in Aachen is one of the first in the world to connect machines using a private ‘5G ready’ network rather than Wi-Fi. There have been 36 mobile antenna installed within the factory walls to connect all the machinery to the IT system and to send data back to the company’s network operations centre, the factory’s brain.  The use of mobile technology provides e.GO’s development team with incredible power to analyse network data and automatically adjust factory processes with the press of a button. Mobile network slicing is being used for the first time in Germany to dedicate a slice of spectrum for the factory to ensure that critical manufacturing processes are never interrupted by inadvertent data packet loss. 

Another first is the use of multi-access edge computing (MEC) by the network to boost the processing power of the Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) which carry the chassis from station to station, replacing the classic production line. The factory will contain the world’s first AGVs to use 4G+ rather than Wi-Fi.

These machines process environmental data, like unexpected objects in their path, near instantaneously (less than 10 milliseconds), ensuring both they and all other machines in the plant adapt their routines accordingly. In the future the AGV will be joined by smart forklifts and smart factory trains which will transport material between warehouses and production halls.

The use of such technology has given e.GO’s development team incredible power to analyse network data and automatically adjust factory processes with the press of a button. When the team decided to move from a steel to an aluminum frame it took just three months to install new machinery and adjust processes, around a sixth of the time it would take a competitor to do the same.

The new e.GO electric car has taken just two years to develop, less than half the average time and has cost €70 million, four times less than the industry average development costs.

This is a revolutionary project which can pave the way for other European businesses. 

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