Throughout the relatively young history of the global automobile industry, there have been three major transformations. Now, the fourth transformation is well underway, with Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric (CASE) vehicles set to radically reshape the industry.
Chinese premium Electric Vehicle (EV) brand, VOYAH, is riding the wave of this fourth transformation. Unlike many other emerging automakers, it is able to draw on the 52 years of vehicle manufacturing experience of its parent company, the Dongfeng Motor Corporation, giving it a clear competitive edge. And to help it implement digital transformation, VOYAH partnered with Huawei to build all-optical networks — featuring deterministic low latency for production lines — in order to deliver the flexible production capabilities required for intelligent EVs.
As of the end of June 2021, Dongfeng Motor had produced a total of 52 million vehicles, including the first mass production model of its new brand, the VOYAH FREE. Taking around 1000 days from the establishment of the brand to its first month of delivery, over 900 VOYAH FREEs were delivered, surpassing the majority of its competitors in the same period.
Arguably, a laser-like focus on improving efficiency has powered the rapid rise of VOYAH. As Tao Xianfeng, VOYAH's Senior Director of Technology Digitalization, explained, the company is manufacturing CASE vehicles to build its core competitiveness, as well as promoting technical and digital transformation to improve the quality and efficiency of production lines. "Of course, both technical and digital transformation require the application of new technologies such as big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI)," Tao said.
For over two years, VOYAH has focused on digital management and intelligent production models. According to Tao, VOYAH has built a customer-centric digital platform and expanded its focus from the traditional value chain to the entire ecosystem. In addition, VOYAH has combined all-optical networks with industrial Internet technology to quickly rebuild its networks based on the new requirements of the market and customers. As a result, operation costs have fallen and production efficiency has been improved.
Over the course of its digitalization journey, VOYAH has also built an innovative direct-sales model and a digital platform for customers to use. This represents a revolution in how a traditional automaker operates and it needs to balance personalization with flexible mass production. As a result, its fully proprietary technologies, allied to the need to rapidly respond to changes, inevitably place higher demands on the network infrastructure.
In short, network performance needed to be improved. "In the past, we only designed a vehicle's structure, so a traditional Wi-Fi network was sufficient," explained Tao. "However, now that we design everything ourselves, we require terabit-level data transmission instead of gigabit. Of course, we also have to ensure the security of information and data transmission." With traditional network architecture limited by the transmission bandwidth of network cables, fiber-in and copper-out is therefore now essential for production lines.
VOYAH also wanted to strengthen its basic capabilities and improve maintenance efficiency, to support rapid development and innovation. Given that traditional three-layer network architecture is complex, with multiple maintenance nodes and a high fault rate, a great deal of time and effort is required for troubleshooting. One solution lies in flattening architecture to support multi-network integration and centralized management for efficient Operations and Maintenance (O&M).
With new applications constantly emerging in this software-defined automobile era, they need to be rolled out fast and production lines need to be reconstructed to meet personalized product requirements in a market in flux. With a traditional network, such constant reconstruction would incur high costs and be highly inefficient. In its place, a future-oriented network must support sustainable evolution and high elasticity.
"Our digital and technical transformation depends on solid network infrastructure," said Tao. In 2019, VOYAH began comparing network solutions and arrived at the conclusion that an all-optical solution — comprised of a wired gigabit fiber network, combined with high-speed wireless, forming a dual-gigabit network, all provided by Huawei — was up to the task.
Why was such a combined network required? As Tao pointed out, the production environment for automakers is complex. Although wireless network devices offer mobility, Wi-Fi stability and reliability aren't guaranteed in strongly magnetic environments, for example a production line involving welding.
Therefore, as Tao explained it, VOYAH chose all-optical networks due to "three tenfold optimizations and three simplifications." Those optimizations — improving by a factor of 10 in each case — refer to a reduction in deterministic latency, an increase in bandwidth, and an increase in the number of all-optical connections. This helps to meet the demands placed on networks for high reliability, stability, and bandwidth. And the three simplifications include simplified two-layer network architecture, simplified evolution from 10G to 50G without the need for re-cabling, and simplified O&M, which can now be performed by a single person, resolving maintenance difficulties.
Deploying all-optical technology to reconstruct its production network, VOYAH also built a new Research and Development (R&D) network, using the same dual-gigabit technology.
Specifically, VOYAH built multiple in-house platforms within the R&D network to ensure design efficiency and data security. With all-optical technology offering both high bandwidth and low latency, the network of the entire R&D building has been reconstructed, freeing up space equivalent to 10 Extra Low Voltage (ELV) rooms, reducing the number of devices required, and improving overall maintenance efficiency. And after reconstruction, the environment for R&D personnel has been significantly improved, with data transmission security and future scalability of the entire network architecture guaranteed.
Elsewhere, the factory environment of traditional automobile manufacturing involves many processes, from stamping and welding to painting and assembly. Unsurprisingly, these different processes place different demands on the network. General assembly and quality inspection, for example, require mobile operations, while the welding production line requires a dual-gigabit network mode, due to its particular environment. And, while in the past automated devices for mass production worked independently, now they are connected by the all-optical network, ensuring data sharing, production data utilization, and real-time monitoring.
"The pilot R&D and production networks have been functioning properly from the end of 2019 to today, in 2021," said Tao. He added that the transmission media in all-optical networks are eco-friendly, complying with carbon neutrality targets and VOYAH's brand vision for EVs. Tao continued: "EVs and all-optical networks will be used in machine vision detection, precise remote control, and unattended inspection, to realize deep convergence and innovation. We plan to build all-optical networks for production lines to improve productivity and accelerate the development of intelligent EVs, as well as build an international and smart automation factory with new technologies and business modes."