Audi’s new modular assembly evolution can boost productivity by up to 20%
Audi is building the next generation of cars using virtual assembly technologies bolstered by artificial intelligence-enabled robots.
Their digital transformation is underpinned by digital twin technology, which allows them to simulate processes in immense detail. All of this technology is part of the auto giant's bid to build smarter, more environmentally friendly factories.
Audi recently invited us to one of their flagship car plants in Ingolstadt, Germany, where they gave us a first-hand look at these innovations.
The world’s first modular assembly system boosts productivity by up to 20%
The assembly line has been a pillar of auto production for more than a century, but now Audi is evolving the concept to the next stage. The automaker has built the world’s first modular assembly system in the automotive industry — which, according to Audi, helps it boost efficiency and productivity by up to 20 percent.
With modular assembly, workers essentially assemble components at “production islands” — small, separate workstations — independently of the building cycle time. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) also supply separate stations with the required materials, improving efficiency and allowing components to be assembled in a more flexible fashion.
Modular assembly renounces on the conveyor belt in certain areas of the production process and the fixed pace of traditional plants, allowing for a much more flexible process. This lets Audi more efficiently deal with the greater product variance of today’s market. “By reducing production time through an orientation toward value creation and self-steering, we are able to increase productivity by about 20 percent,” says Audi Project Manager Wolfgang Kern.
Audi aims to get the majority of its design work done in virtual reality
Audi is using digital twin technology and an in-house virtual reality solution to speed up and smoothen the design and the production planning process. It also allows it to iterate its designs much faster without committing any real-world materials. The company aims to perform more work — mainly the final approval of car surfaces — in virtual reality in a bid to reduce operational costs and also save money, time, and resources.
The company uses big screens, called powerwalls, to show the car in its original size. It uses a “visualization cluster” composed of 26,000 CPUs to present cars in a like-for-like representation using physics-based, realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections. This forms the foundation of their virtual decision-making process.
Audi’s workers can also collaborate in a digital space in real-time using virtual reality headsets. “I’m always fascinated all over again the moment we put on the VR glasses and meet our colleagues as avatars in the virtual world,” said Audi’s Andrés Kohler. “First, we build our new Audi there or look at a computer-generated avatar and how it applies as a real-time simulation. And when necessary, while we're in there together, we discuss and optimize the sequences and the workplace environment, like how to set up materials of what tools are needed.”
The German automaker is also working with NavVis to test Boston Dynamic’s Spot the robot to automatically scan environments to create a digital likeness that can enhance the factory planning process. These types of scans are currently performed manually in a time-consuming process. According to Audi, approximately four million square meters (43 million square feet) and 13 plants have been scanned so far as part of its site digitization.
Harnessing artificial intelligence to save time and energy
The Spot the robot scanning Audi’s facilities will be AI-enabled, but the company is also using plenty of other solutions. Its press shop at the Ingolstadt manufacturing plant uses an AI algorithm to help identify even the tiniest of flaws in components. It is a deep learning solution, meaning it should get better at identifying flaws the more it’s utilized. It was trained over months using several million test patterns.
Audi’s Ingolstadt facility uses the same amount of energy as the entire city of Ingolstadt in a year. However, the company is now using data and data analysis to make its manufacturing more sustainable and lower its energy consumption. The in-house energy analytics Audi uses allowed it to save approximately 37,000 MWh at its Ingolstadt site last year, the company says. Audi, of course, also plans to phase out the production of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, and has committed to producing its last ICE by 2033.
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