Jay Ian Birbeck

July 19, 2023

4 Min Read
Geely's Zeekr leads 5G shift in global auto manufacturing
Automotive sensing system concept. Autonomous car. Driver assistant system. Adaptive cruise control.

Zeekr, a Chinese electric vehicle brand under auto conglomerate Geely, is shaking up global auto manufacturing with its fully-connected 5G factory in Ningbo, China. The factory, developed with China Unicom Zhejiang, enables unprecedented customization options, highlighting the technology’s potential to reshape the industry and China’s push for commercial 5G.

 

The factory hosts a dozen integrated 5G applications, underscoring the technology’s transformative impact.

One of the most striking outcomes of Zeekr’s 5G factory is its extraordinary level of product customization— a cornerstone of its brand strategy. Notably, of the first 10,000 orders for the brand’s flagship Zeekr 001, only five configurations were identical. This level of product variation, made possible by tailoring individual components and materials to fulfill unique orders, would have been inconceivable on a traditional production line.

Yet, 5G has allowed Zeekr to achieve this while preserving production efficiency, an impressive feat in an industry that typically struggles to balance customization and productivity.

“Traditional wired networks are not flexible enough to quickly adjust production lines and meet new business requirements,” explained He Wei, Vice President, Government and Enterprise BG, China Unicom Zhejiang , emphasizing that 5G was critical to overcoming traditional production networks’ inherent limitations.

One key factor in Zeekr’s customization capability is using 5G in its automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which play a pivotal role in car assembly. Equipped with 5G modules, these AGVs continuously transmit status data and receive control commands. This state-of-the-art automation enhances material handling efficiency, which is crucial in the mixed production of the Zeekr 001.

“With this combination, logistics efficiency has increased by 30%, and late deliveries have dropped by 50% compared to previous methods,” added He.

The factory has also merged 5G and artificial intelligence to assist workers in dealing with cars of different configurations. For instance, in the final assembly workshop, Zeekr uses 5G-powered AI machine vision to inspect both interior and exterior trims. This innovative system wouldn’t be possible without 5G’s large bandwidth, low latency, edge computing and other unique technical features. By drastically reducing human error, this fusion has improved inspection efficiency by a whopping 80% and reduced product defects by 30%.

“Leveraging 5G technology to eliminate information barriers has allowed us to optimize production capacity based on customer demands. This sets a benchmark not only for Geely but also for the wider industry, demonstrating the potential of integrated 5G applications in China’s automotive sector,” according to Dai Longcai, IT Manager, Zeekr Intelligent Technology.

Zeekr’s 5G use extends into employee training and equipment testing. For example, factory workers wear AR glasses when inspecting equipment. Connected to a 5G platform, these glasses provide a real-time, high-definition video feed, enabling an expert situated anywhere globally to provide guided assistance through complex tasks.

The company also uses 5G to maintain a real-time virtual model of the production line to test and simulate changes before implementation. This digital twin allows Zeekr to virtually verify its welding robots, simulate the welding production line’s physical appearance, layout, and operation logic, and harmoniously integrate this with the factory’s hardware and software systems. This 5G-fueled approach is as green as it is efficient, curtailing resource consumption by 8% and accelerating maintenance tasks by 50%.

Zeekr’s trailblazing efforts have gained recognition. The factory was bestowed with the “2021 China Automotive Industry Benchmark Smart Factory” title and is part of the inaugural batch of 5G fully-connected factory seed projects initiated by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The success of Zeekr’s 5G factory is a testament to the quality networks of China Unicom. By forging partnerships with key industry leaders, the company has propelled integrated 5G innovations in real-world commercial practices, maximizing value across a myriad of industry scenarios.

The success of Zeekr’s 5G-integrated factory not only demonstrates China Unicom’s commitment to promoting 5G in B2B sectors but also provides a roadmap for the global auto manufacturing industry. As Zeekr aims to rank among Europe’s top three premium electric-vehicle brands by 2030, its use of 5G in manufacturing is a significant leap toward global manufacturing’s digital transformation.

Zeekr’s success exemplifies the broader transformation sweeping across China’s manufacturing sector. The MIIT plans to establish at least 20 fully-connected 5G factories in each province by 2025 and extend 5G coverage to more than 95% of all large-scale factories in the country.

Zeekr’s 5G implementation is a remarkable feat that offers a captivating preview of what lies ahead for the auto sector worldwide. Moreover, the unmatched level of customization 5G offers presents intriguing possibilities not just in the auto industry, but across the broader manufacturing landscape.

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