Man beats robots at Mercedes’ most efficient factory, Auto News, ET Auto
Stuttgart: Entering the shop floor of Mercedes-Benz’s most efficient factory here, I found myself surrounded by a number of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), moving on an endless serpentine magnetic tape criss-crossing the factory 56 which is almost equal to the size of 30 football pitches.
“Sometimes there are as many people in the factory as on the highway,” said Joerg Burzer, Mercedes-Benz Group AG Board Member, Production & Supply Chain. “What you’ve seen here with Factory 56 is our model for the production of the future,” he added.
The automaker claims that it is the right configuration to achieve the big transformation which is different from its competitors. AGV, powered by strong digitalization, is the protagonist of the company’s future production.
This particular factory claims to be 25% more efficient than the company’s most productive former factory. Amazingly, this was achieved by removing over a dozen bots and improving scanning, and syncing it with HR.
The new in-house developed scanning configuration is called MO (Mercedes Operations) 360 degrees, which can digitize every production process, the company said.
The process also helps increase transparency and efficiency and keeps them informed of where each part is, and if there is a quality issue, sometimes even before it actually happens.
“So we are working very hard on that. And the good thing is that with this scanning setup, we have pretty much every major update, because we do it ourselves,” Burzer said.
Interestingly, even people working on the manufacturing line are skilled at doing low level coding. It helps because they know where the challenges are and can solve them at the right time.
The factory has moved ahead of the conveyor belt and adopted the most flexible shopping cart model where thousands of AGVs of various sizes continue to transport parts all around the assembly and manufacturing lines. The automaker is calling the transition from lean manufacturing to digital production.
“If you talk about the production of the future, what was called lean production 10 or 15 years ago, I would call it digital production today,” Burzer said. “The focus is on improving HPV (hours per vehicle produced) and it’s also about the number of people used in logistics. We compensate for a potential downside of less automation with extremely high scanning efficiency. This is how we calculate it,” he said.
Burzer, who leads 75,000 team members across 34 factories, said “soon the same level of digitization and reduced robotic automation will be implemented across all factories.”
Digitization is not limited to internal processes only, but also to the external supply chain as part of its Container X program. “We connect our digitization approach, not only internally in the value creation process, but also to the supply chain by managing the interface,” he said.
Fully flexible production line
The German luxury carmaker isn’t building a plan just for electric vehicles. Therefore, it builds all powertrain variants on a single line at Plant 56. In this plant, the company has introduced a full flexible marriage which is a station where body and powertrains come together. This feature allows them to build all powertrain variants and body type variants in one line.
In this plant, the company produces all body types and different types of powertrain vehicles, including the S-class and the Maybach hybrid, and the EQS, on the same line. From this factory, they serve more than 100 markets.
“So we have this pretty cool innovation, which was launched in Factory 56, and we’re launching it in all plans right now,” Burzer added.
The full flexible marriage feature is also going to help in terms of powertrain uncertainty going forward, whether it’s all-electric or mixed.
“So think about it, if you have a situation in 2030 and beyond where you have a market requirement just for electric vehicles. No problem, we can do it and the complete flexible wedding setup. It’s not a very expensive setup but a very smart one. So it costs a few million, but not a few hundred million, that you have to spend to build a new factory,” Burzer concluded.
(The writer was in Stuttgart at the invitation of Mercedes Benz AG.)
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