A total of 1,722 people work in the area of Technical Development at Audi’s site in Neckarsulm (as of December 31, 2020). Focal points are the Lightweight Design Center, fuel cell technology research and the development of highly efficient TDI and TFSI engines.
- Group Competence Center for Fuel Cell Technology: At the Neckarsulm site’s Fuel Cell Technical Center, specialists from a variety of disciplines are conducting research and development work with the aim of readying the technology for use in series production. 70 percent of the employees working there have undergone internal qualification training. The Neckarsulm site expanded its core competence in the field with the establishment of an MEA (Membrane Electrode Assembly) Technical Center in 2019.
- The right amount of the right material in the right place: The engineers at the Audi Lightweight Design Center develop not just for Audi, but for the entire Group. Their work includes finding solutions for the demands of models with alternative drives, such as the battery housings of electric models. The goal of development is to design the bodies to be as light as possible while remaining economical. The body of the future will consist of an intelligent multi-material mix and will differ in its composition depending on the segment and the drive type. Also playing a role here are the various lightweight design technical centers at the site, where materials are tested and developed to series maturity.
Production and Logistics
The great diversity of models produced at the site makes Neckarsulm one of the most complex plants in the Volkswagen Group. Logistics at Audi ensures that vehicle production and market supply are punctual, flexible, and efficient. Mastering this complexity is essential to the model diversity at the plants. Smart Factory principles are firmly anchored at the Neckarsulm site. Audi-Experts are working continuously to optimize processes and develop innovative IT solutions that advance digitalization in production and logistics. The Audi Böllinger Höfe also play a special role here. The small-series production facility was specifically chosen for a variety of innovative pilot projects. Intelligent solutions for the fully connected and smart factory are being tested, refined and ultimately adapted there for large-volume production in the Neckarsulm plant.
- Pearl chain principle: An algorithm calculates the best sequence for the assembly line from nearly two trillion possibilities. In this way, six days prior to the relevant date, a precise and binding order sequence is defined – the pearl chain principle. The algorithm uses information on ordered cars while taking into account the resulting work for the employees in all work areas so that they can be utilized most effectively.
- Using data to optimize processes: An interdisciplinary project team within Audi Supply Chain at the Neckarsulm site is exploring how to use data to further optimize the management of a plant. To do this, the logistics specialists at Audi use the largest possible data basis. The focus is on data from suppliers and forwarding agents as well as congestion information and data from other business areas and the entire production value chain (press shop, body shop, paint shop and assembly). For example, we were able to reduce freight costs in one year by a six-digit sum by visually processing and analyzing large volumes of data in this way.
- On the road to the fully connected factory: In early 2021, Neckarsulm became the first automobile plant in the Volkswagen Group to use RFID technology (RFID = radio-frequency identification) to identify vehicles throughout the entire production process. The site thus laid another key cornerstone for fully connected production. An enhanced RFID data medium, the “on metal tag,” is being used for the first time in the production of the fully electric Audi e-tron GT.
- Drones for locating vehicles: The aircraft flies over the vehicle dispatch area at the Audi site in Neckarsulm autonomously. The drone uses GPS and RFID technology to identify and save the exact position of all vehicles it flew over, thereby helping Audi employees to plan the necessary steps from completion of the vehicles to dispatch to the customers.
- Smart maintenance: The “Predictive Maintenance” project at Audi’s Neckarsulm site is making the maintenance of production facilities more efficient and thereby ensuring less downtime in production. Maintenance experts collect and interpret associated data and can predict wear on production equipment.
- Smart logistics is the automated transport of parts and vehicles. Driverless floor conveyors have been used for automated material transport within the halls since early 2017.
- The Audi e-tron GT* is the first four rings model for which production was planned entirely without physical prototypes. Multiple technical innovations made this possible, including three-dimensional building scans, machine learning processes and the use of virtual reality. All assembly processes, such as procedures and employee actions were tested and optimized in virtual spaces that model their real-world counterparts down to the finest detail. Virtual planning is now used across site boundaries, enabling digital, connected working without business trips or foreign assignments – and not just during the coronavirus pandemic. 3D scans and the planning in virtual spaces make processes more efficient and sustainable.
- 3D printing expertise: The Audi e-tron GT* was the first vehicle for which 3D printing was an established part of pre-series production so that printed tools for assembly and pre-assembly were already in place at the start of production. And not just in place, but tailored to the needs of the employees. To this end, the in-house team of 3D printing specialists at Böllinger Höfe has teamed up with Berlin-based company “trinckle” to develop innovative design software. This software cuts design time for tools by 80%.
Audi environmental program “Mission:Zero” encourages more environmental protection
Mission:Zero is the Audi environmental program for consistently sustainable production. All activities and measures for reducing the ecological footprint at the Audi sites worldwide, in Production and Logistics are bundled here. The focus is on Audi’s key challenges of decarbonization, water use, resource efficiency and biodiversity. One of the key objectives is to achieve net CO2-neutral production locations by 2025.
Mission:Zero at the Neckarsulm site – examples of measures:
- The production process of the e-tron GT at the Neckarsulm site is net carbon-neutral. Since early 2020, the entire Neckarsulm site has used exclusively eco-electricity. A combined heat-and-power plant fired with biogas provides the heat required for production at the Bölllinger Höfe. Audi uses carbon credits from certified climate protection projects to offset emissions that currently cannot be avoided using renewable sources of energy.
- Recycle: Audi introduced the Aluminum Closed Loop at the Neckarsulm site back in 2017. The aluminum sheet offcuts that are produced in the press shop are sent directly back to the supplier companies, which then process and recycle them. Audi then reuses these reprocessed aluminum sheets in its production process. Audi saves several thousand tons of net CO2 emissions each year this way. Additionally, in a current pilot project polymer waste from A6 and A7 assembly is sorted, chopped up and processed into special fibers. These filaments are then to be used by the 3D printing team at the Audi Böllinger Höfe to produce assembly tools for production.
- Sustainable water use: The Neckarsulm location aims to produce wastewater-neutral by 2025 and relies on a closed water cycle with the sewage treatment plant of the association “Unteres Sulmtal” adjacent to the plant. Therefore a new water-supply facility will go online, creating a closed water cycle between the Audi plant and the sewage treatment plant. Before construction on the new facility starts, the process will be tested extensively with the pilot facility in the northern area of the plant.
- Audi Logistics is a climate protection pioneer: All of the rail traffic at the Neckarsulm site with DB Cargo is climate neutral. A variety of locomotives with CNG (compressed natural gas) or electric drives are used for shunting between the trailer yard and the plant grounds. At the initiative of Audi experts, a key carrier also uses trucks powered with biomethane for the road transport of its shipments. And two trucks powered with LNG (liquefied natural gas) are already being used to deliver parts to the site over longer distances.
- Conserve resources and avoid waste: Multiple projects in the areas of Production and Logistics at the site help to meaningfully conserve resources at the supplier companies and thus systematically reduce waste. A trash bag producer, for example, uses a portion of the polymer waste to produce bags that are then used at the Neckarsulm site.
- Biodiversity: In 2015, Audi joined the nationwide initiative in Germany “Biodiversity in Good Company” as part of its commitment to protecting biological diversity. Measures undertaken at the site include flower meadows, nesting boxes for birds, bee hives and an insect hotel.