Digital change encompasses companies of all sizes and in every industry. As a result, industry giants are also constantly searching for solutions that will help them implement digital transformation processes. Audi is currently developing and testing the concept of modular assembly.
It’s roughly 100 years ago that Henry Ford commissioned the first complete assembly line production in the history of the automotive industry. But even the top dogs have to move with the times if they don’t want to lose their pioneering position. And that is precisely what one Bavarian major player in the automotive industry is doing: Audi – and in fact not on its own but in collaboration with the start-up Arculus.
Modular assembly: cars can be customised easier and quicker
As standard assembly line production is not an efficient use of resources in times of the extensive customisation of end products, but in fact quite the opposite leads to ever longer idle periods in production, the company was searching for an innovative solution that offers an alternative to the assembly line. In the end, the corporation created this solution in collaboration with the start-up Arculus, which Audi has a share in. The young company has been based in Audi’s immediate vicinity since spring 2016 working on implementing modular assembly.
The new technology is supposed to replace rigid work sequences on the assembly line and make them more flexible. One obvious advantage: problems can be rectified on the spot – the assembly line and therefore complete production does not have to be stopped. The production process’ individual components are separate and the respective stations are staffed by one or two operators. Another bonus: The workers no longer have to adapt to the assembly line’s speed or move with the line. As driverless transportation systems take over the transporting of parts between the individual stations. Audi is also working on innovative systems here, which will orient themselves and therefore be highly flexible. All these activities are managed and monitored from a central control system.
Nowadays, identical cars do not leave the production line any more as the customer has the choice between numerous configurations. Making the work flow more flexible accommodates this ever growing trend towards personalisation and even allows for modifications to the model during operation. A considerable increase in resource efficiency for Audi: the corporation is reckoning with a productivity advantage of 20 percent plus X (depending on the number of variants).
Collaborations with start-ups pay off
The decision to outsource the development of modular assembly to a start-up did not come about by chance. No provider already established on the market was able to cope with the plants and their central control system at the same time. Which is why the founders were tinkering away on a new solution in an old factory hall within just a few months. By the way, Arculus is not the only start-up that is revolutionising production at Audi. The smart ProGlove will be used at the Ingolstadt plant in future so that parts can be dispatched without any additional manual handling using an integrated scanner. “The scanner glove is a real relief for our employees. With it they are more flexible, more mobile and scan and package the boxes easier,” explains Hartmut Bartsch, Manager of the CKD packaging business. “We are also organising complex logistics processes innovatively and more efficiently using the glove.”
The Audi case is a good example of two things: on the one hand it shows how established corporations are also using the opportunities of Industry 4.0 with new business models and that several measures are necessary to make a factory “smart”. On the other hand it is clear that start-ups in particular provide the necessary flexibility to rethink traditional ways of working too. The combination of the two creates profitable symbioses for both sides in this and in numerous other examples and shows how Industry 4.0 is being put into practice in Bavaria. Other stakeholders can also profit from the constructive environment in the Free State of Bavaria. Invest in Bavaria, the business development agency for the State of Bavaria, informs interested companies and offers free support.