Ford and Vodafone unlock the potential of 5G EV production
Ford announced that it has received government backing, along with its partners, to introduce 5G networks to its car manufacturing.
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has said that £65mn will be pledged to nine consortia in order to explore the transformative benefits of the new network technology.
“We’re determined to harness this revolutionary technology to boost the productivity and growth of UK industries,” he stated.
“We want Britain to be a world leader in 5G and since 2017 the government has invested millions in ground-breaking testbeds and trials across the country to achieve this.”
Accordingly, a 5G network delivered by Vodafone is scheduled to be installed at Ford’s E:PriME (Electrified Powertrain in Manufacturing Engineering) plant in Dunton, Essex.
In addition to unlocking exponentially faster network speeds, Vodafone promises to resolve many of the enduring issues surrounding the employment of 5G in industrial settings, such as delays, narrow bandwidth, reliability and deployment time.
The advantages of a properly integrated site would be a truly next-gen manufacturing cycle: real-time control, data analysis and remote expert support.
Moving towards tomorrow’s plant
Of particular interest to Ford is 5G’s applicability to its welding machines in the creation of critical EV components - the motor and the batteries. Estimating that a single set of these components would take approximately 1,000 welds, the company is conscious of the millions of pieces of data that would be required.
Chris White, Ford’s 5GEM project lead, stated that the upfront investment for the transformation would be expensive, yet the ROI could prove more than worth it.
“Connecting today’s shop floor requires significant time and investment. 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.”
Additionally, Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business, added that 5G presented organisations with the opportunity to drastically reimagine business as we know it:
“5G mobile private networks act as a springboard for organisations, allowing them to rethink the way they do business.
“In this case, MPN (mobile private network) technology makes the factory of the future possible. It allows machines and computing power to coordinate in real-time, improving precision, efficiency and safety. We’re excited to help Ford plan for the future of its business.”
Image courtesy of Ford
Accelerating solar transition with robotics and automation
Professor Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, shares his views on how robotics and automation can deliver a real impact in leading the Middle East’s transition to solar energy and in advancing the overall sustainability agenda
As the world grapples with diminishing supplies of oil and the need to reduce carbon emissions, the adoption of disruptive technologies such as robotics and automation can be an important catalyst for the proliferation of renewable energy. Current applications and research show that robotics and automation help simplify the processes involved in support of renewable energy generation, especially for solar energy sources, which results in increased productivity, and cost savings.
Solar panel placement
Robots and automation can help unload and place solar panels onto racks at huge utility-scale sites. Thanks to outdoor, autonomous robotic technology, the process for solar field assembly can be made more efficient. Moreover, due to the fragile nature of solar cells and wafers, high-speed impact robots are more suitable and gentler than manual handling which helps ensure higher throughputs with better yield. Robots support solar construction crews, not replace them which means utility-scale contractors are able to reduce large amounts of repetitive tasks and improve productivity, bolster worker safety, and produce more MegaWatt-hours, faster.
Solar panel cleaning and maintenance
Crucial tasks such as removing dust from solar cells can be automated with the help of self-cleaning robots which is otherwise risky for people. Dust removal is critical in high dust-density regions such as the Middle East to maximise the irradiance incident on the panel and to ensure the solar panels provide maximum power output and energy yield. Water-free autonomous cleaning system can save billions of litres of water over the lifetime of a plant situated in arid regions.
Manufacturing of solar power systems
Robots in the PV manufacturing process make a significant contribution due to their ability to reduce costs considerably and enhancing precision and accuracy when compared with human intervention. Manufacturers can deploy robots and automation to make smarter and swifter production decisions, which ultimately increase precision, reduces the cost of production, and improves productivity. Silicon ingot, silicon modules, solar cells, and silicon wafers are some examples of delicate components that can be produced with high precision through robotic automation.
Integrating robotics into the renewable energy industry comes with a few of challenges too. One of the largest challenges being the power grid itself which is primarily designed to transport energy from large, centralized power plants fuelled by non-renewable sources such as natural gas and oil. Hence, the current power grid requires an overhaul before solar and other forms of distributed renewable energy can be truly integrated as a viable source of power.
Fresh power grid designs
Propelling the energy industry into the future requires fresh approaches to the power grid design. The answer lies with smart power grids that can integrate various renewable energy sources and help utility companies achieve greater efficiency and sustainability.
An increase in the integration of robotics and automation in the renewable energy industry could lead to an eventual total shift from other sources of energies such as oil to greener alternatives such as solar. Finally, this will spur the creation of “jobs of the future” – especially in high-growth data, digital and robotics engineering.