Production 4.0: Audi Plans For The Smart Factory
Automotive production is becoming more integrated and at the same time has to be more intelligent and more efficient. Flexible production of customized vehicles is one of the big challenges for the future, especially for a premium carmaker like Audi. How will the “Vorsprung durch Technik” brand meet its aim of offering premium quality with added custom flexibility? The company sees the “smart factory” as the key.
Whether it’s body-color moldings or light-alloy wheels in a special size, almost every car is ordered with some kind of customization, and the demands are increasing. This requires of course already a lot of flexibility. While the variety of models and quality demands are increasing, automotive manufacturers such as Audi are eager to make production sustainable. In an Audi interview, innovation management members Alois Brandt and Henning Löser talk about “production 4.0” and the upcoming “smart factory.”
How will Audi manage the production site with its very high standards of quality, efficiency, and environmental acceptability? Will the so-called “smart factory,” which should be the intelligent factory of the future, only employ robots?
Alois Brandt: “With a deep look into the production, I am convinced that our employees and not machines are the relevant working forces behind the Audi brand. Machines can be bought anywhere.”
Increasing digitalization is paving the way for the smart factory – the intelligent, digitally connected production facility. New high-tech solutions in manufacturing should further increase the high level of quality, while at the same time the assembly work should be easier and result in better ergonomics. Can you give us a clearer imagination of the “smart factory”?
Alois Brandt: “There are a lot of ideas. But the big question at the moment is: Which one is really needed and leads into the right direction?”
Can you tell us a little bit more about “production 4.0”?
Alois Brandt: “The assembly line as we know it in the present will no longer play the same role. If it makes sense, it will be terminated and replaced by – let’s call it – a virtual assembly line. The production will be more modular than before and the car will be directed to a production point – a so-called ‘island of competence’ – where it is needed.”
Henning Löser: “If the vehicle is to be assembled to the customer’s wishes, it is obvious that efficient programming of robots and coordinating with the human workers is needed. As a matter of fact, robots will become more important as assistance in the production process. But we have to check where more robotics really make sense. Further, an important field of the smart factory with a high potential will be the development of 3D-printing.”