Smart Factory at Audi: this is where the digitization of the industry is heading
Efficient production systems and new high-tech solutions are the basis of fully networked, digitized production. With this clear vision in mind, Audi is strategically setting up its processes in preparation for the future of the automotive industry. The focus is on the employees: intelligent assistance systems will offer them effective support, thereby also making use of new forms of human-machine interaction. These systems save resources, improve process security and reliability as well as ergonomics in the workplace.
Audi founded the Production Lab (P-Lab) in Ingolstadt seven years ago to test such innovative ideas under real-life conditions. Audi was thus seeking to bring new technologies into play more quickly. Henning Löser has headed P-Lab since 2016 and is responsible for innovation management projects in the field of production.
Productive in the P-Lab – we interviewed Henning Löser about the Smart Factory at Audi
What is the relationship between P-Lab and “normal” everyday production processes at Audi?
Löser: To ensure the feasibility of our ideas, we get in touch with our production colleagues. We collaborate with them and show them what we are currently working on. There is no point in developing something in theory if no one can make use of it in practice. New products and services often fail because of minute details that nobody thought of to begin with.
What technologies are you working on right now?
Löser: Take 5G, for example: We have been using our own 5G frequency since 2018. We’ve been doing this to learn more about how to optimize the use of wireless networks in a smart factory. Another example is software or cloud-based work: We also want to make use of this in production. This would be a revolution in terms of the automation of production processes.
In your view, how far has Audi come on the road to the industry of the future?
Löser: We are well on our way, especially when it comes to making efficient use of the new technologies. When we automate processes, we sometimes have more work to do elsewhere. For example, the more driverless transport systems we use, the more computing power and fleet managers we need. Then there is the maintenance and servicing of these devices. So we always need to make sure that the overall efficiency is working perfectly.
We try everything out and always test the whole concept of any new ideas right from the start. It has to be technologically and culturally compatible with Audi. We also always consider what training measures would be necessary for our employees. At the end of the day, vehicle construction remains an art. In the future, too, it will always be a question of cooperation between man and machine.
Speaking of the future: What do you think production at Audi might look like in ten years' time?
Löser: I am absolutely convinced that we will resolutely and rigorously progress with these issues. Because this is the only way we can reduce costs and at the same time become more flexible and improve quality. We need a smart factory that reacts quickly to fluctuations in demand. This also applies when switching to new products – during ongoing production. This can only work if you have intelligent solutions and a smart production.
Audi is already in the process of running a Smart Factory
In the future, the Neckarsulm site will play a leading role in the field of “Digital Production and Logistics” for the entire Volkswagen Group and is already doing so today. This is where comprehensive competences in the areas of vehicle manufacturing, logistics and production IT come together. At the Böllinger Höfe in Heilbronn, for example, Audi is testing various innovative pilot projects. In small-series production. Audi then transfers these to large-scale series production at the Neckarsulm plant and elsewhere.
But “smart” work is also being carried out at the Brussels site: The “Battery Monitoring Analysis Necessity” – “Battman” for short − is software that analyzes high-voltage batteries extremely quickly. It provides all the data readings on site and in real time. Cumbersome data exchanges and long waiting times are thus a thing of the past. And at the Győr plant, Audi Hungaria has been producing electric drives based on the modular assembly principle since summer 2018.
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