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In a 600 acre green production factory, cantilever robots on production lines and production machines manufacture the most important components of heavy-duty trucks — transmission — in an intelligent and highly coordinated way. In China, 8 out of every 10 heavy-duty trucks are equipped with transmission produced by Shaanxi Fast Auto Drive Co., Ltd., Fast Group, for short. Indeed, the heavy-duty truck transmission produced by Fast Group accounts for more than 40% of the global market share and has been ranked first in the world's gear industry for 14 consecutive years, in terms of annual production and sales. What's so special about this green factory?
Fast Group successfully developed China's first unit of heavy-duty truck transmission, breaking through technical barriers and phasing out outdated production capacity. Fast Group focuses on core technology, constantly innovates, and has upgraded smart manufacturing as a strategic measure to keep on increasing production efficiency and profits. Even with the global health crisis in 2020, the production workshop successfully manufactured more than 10 million units of transmission, driving production volume up from millions of units to tens of millions. This achievement is in no small part due to the smart factory.
What is a smart factory? Such a factory implements smart manufacturing, which is the key to increasing production and sales volumes. Smart manufacturing connects various resources, such as products, people, materials, and finance, to efficiently and rapidly share information, satisfying the requirements for the automatic production and intelligent management of transmission across all stages, from production to sales. To achieve this goal, Fast Group used new technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to build a smart factory way back in 2017. How did Fast Group use a communications network to integrate the new technologies and accelerate the upgrade?
A secure, reliable, fast, and efficient communications network is essential for building a digital, network-based, intelligent green factory. "Driven by new services and a new experience of smart manufacturing in Industry 4.0, information technology (IT) based and digital construction needs to achieve qualitative changes caused by quantitative changes," said Bo Lei, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Fast Group during a presentation on Fast Group's smart manufacturing practices. "Enterprise networks must transform from the Internet to industrial interconnected networks. The original Fast Group network had a complex structure, was difficult to deploy, and had limited performance, posing great challenges in terms of reliability, flexibility, convenience, and future evolution capability. It could not meet the increasing demands on device network connections such as those of the production line control system, Manufacturing Execution System (MES), and smart office. It was also unable to meet requirements for the connectivity of everything, high security and reliability, and the high agility of Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing. New network solutions were urgently needed. And in addition to meeting these requirements, a new network solution also needed to support flexible evolution and smooth upgrade in the future, to cope with the long-term development of smart manufacturing."
In 2018, the IT team of Fast Group compared multiple network solutions and ultimately selected Huawei's Industry OptiX network solution to reconstruct its campus production network. The Huawei solution effectively resolved the network pain points faced by Fast Group during digital transformation, building an all-optical base for the smart factory well-suited to the Industry 4.0 era, featuring high reliability, high flexibility, and simplified operations and maintenance (O&M), greatly improving production and energy efficiency.
In summary, Huawei's Industry OptiX network solution has delivered unique value during Fast Group's upgrade to smart manufacturing.
As a data transmission medium, fiber is not susceptible to corrosion and electromagnetic interference. Unlike copper cables, fiber does not age from oil stains (such as the cutting fluid used on production lines), nor does it suffer from electromagnetic interference caused by machine startup and shutdown. As such, fiber is highly adaptable to the harsh environment of workshops, with no faults occurring on the all-optical network in workshops for a whole year.
Fiber can also be used for long-haul transmission and can be directly connected to the control cabinet of machines on production lines. In this way, it overcomes the difficulties in installing and maintaining aerial information boxes on traditional networks, which need to be deployed above production lines due to the 100 m distance limitation of copper cables. Using fiber, the time for connecting new devices in the workshop to the factory network is also reduced from 3 hours to just 0.5 hours, and efficiency is increased by 80%. Fiber also allows flexible changes and fast capacity expansion, enabling collaborative manufacturing in workshops and quickly adapting to rapid adjustments in production using different cables.
One optical network supports a variety of services and implements diverse applications, from the management of machine control cabinets to uploading videos on production lines in the factory area. Such a network also supports campus video security as well as office, voice, and Wi-Fi services. The optical network connects products, people, things, materials, and financial resources in the factory, overcoming the information exchange limitations of traditional networks when multiple networks coexist. Furthermore, one network management system (NMS) implements end-to-end (E2E) visualized and intelligent management. Based on this NMS platform, information sharing permissions can be flexibly managed and controlled, increasing O&M efficiency by 60%. A flattened and simplified architecture closely matches the requirements for efficient and collaborative management of factory resources based on innovative technologies such as big data and Intelligence in a cloud-based service scenario. This effectively achieves intelligent factory production, meets smart working requirements, and increases production efficiency.
A passive optical distribution network provided by the solution does not need an access equipment room to be deployed, nor require power supplies or auxiliary facilities, thereby saving energy. Fiber places almost no limits on bandwidth and its lifecycle is three times that of copper cables. In addition, re-cabling is not required during future network upgrades. The point-to-multipoint (P2MP) transmission mode supports flexible service expansion, increasing capacity much more easily than in a traditional point-to-point (P2P) transmission mode. In addition, a next-generation intelligent distributed optical line terminal (OLT) supports smooth evolution from 10G to 50G. The network remains future-proof for the next 30 years, effectively protecting existing investments.
Huawei's Industry OptiX network solution is flexible, innovative, and future-oriented. It closely matches the existing and future digital production requirements of Fast Group and proves to be a good choice for traditional enterprises looking to transform to digital enterprises and achieve industrial innovation. Fast Group has deployed Huawei's Industry OptiX network solution in the production line and office environment of its factory in Xi'an, the capital city of central China's Shaanxi Province. Based on this solution, core technologies and devices are made smart, the MES system is integrated with the production line control system, digital control is implemented in 98% of key processes, and more than 80% of devices are connected to the network. Aiming for digital transformation, Fast Group proactively promotes green industrial development, implements green manufacturing projects, and achieves smart manufacturing that integrates automation and informatization for multiple production lines. Fast Group has been named a "smart manufacturing demonstration enterprise" in China and is also among "the first batch of green factory demonstration enterprises" in 2020.
Bo Lei, the CIO of Fast Group
Fast Group's cutting-edge factory in Xi'an is a microcosm of Fast Group's smart manufacturing overall, based on an Industry OptiX network. As a leading enterprise in drive systems for commercial vehicles, Fast Group proactively follows every new development trend, embracing digital transformation. It adopts an innovation-driven strategy toward smart manufacturing, to accelerate the reconstruction and upgrade of traditional industry production lines and agilely adapt to the market landscape. Other factories of Fast Group, such as a factory for producing intelligent braking devices, also use all-optical networks, achieving digital transformation for all production processes. This is why Fast Group was able to reach an all-time sales record of CNY 20 billion by October 2020, achieving higher sales revenue compared to the previous year, even in the face of the global health crisis. As the integration of all-optical network technology into enterprise production deepens, production pain points will be solved one by one. The successful transformation of Fast Group sets an example for how the manufacturing industry can overcome challenges and achieve success.