The Audi Neckarsulm site has been manufacturing cars for over 100 years. Driven by innovative ideas, passion, and the pursuit of perfection, the site has developed from its beginnings as a knitting machine workshop to a modern car manufacturer. AUDI AG is one of the largest employers in the Heilbronn-Franken economic region. 15,614 people work here for the Mobility of the Future. On an area of approximately one million square meters, the company produces cars in the Audi A4, Audi A5 Cabriolet, Audi A6, Audi A7, and Audi A8 series lines. At the Böllinger Höfe industrial park near Heilbronn some six kilometers away, AUDI AG has now expanded its Neckarsulm plant by an area of approximately 300,000 square meters. Audi Sport GmbH has its headquarters here, and this is the birthplace of the high-performance sports car Audi R8 and the all-electric Audi e-tron GT.
With its expertise in small-series and volume production, the Neckarsulm plant is one of Europe’s most complex and boasts some of the greatest product variety of all VW Group locations. The site is also playing a leadership role in the VW Group’s future-oriented projects for digital production and logistics and is constantly transforming into a smart factory. Neckarsulm is also taking steps to prepare for electrification. With the plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids of the A6, A7, and A8 models, the Audi site’s core series are all already electrified. Since the end of 2020, Audi Neckarsulm has also been building the first all-electric Audi model to be made at a site in Germany: the e-tron GT. The company had to upgrade and expand the Böllinger Höfe plant to accommodate production of the Audi e-tron GT alongside the Audi R8 on a joint assembly line that is unique throughout the Audi Group. In body construction however, the models are largely produced separately. To integrate the Audi e-tron GT, production at Böllinger Höfe had to be expanded to cover new competencies in electrification, automation, and digitalization. At the same time, the plant holds true to its strengths and continues to rely on them. In this way, Böllinger Höfe represents a unique combination of craftsmanship and smart factory.
Audi Forum Neckarsulm is making a mark in the region and far beyond it. Since its opening in May of 2005, approximately three million people have visited the brand experience world. On an area of more than 10,000 square meters, customers, visitors, and fans alike can discover the fascination and variety of the Audi brand, the company, and the Neckarsulm site.
- This is also where new car owners come to pick up their Audi. Exhibits offer insight into the company’s tradition as well as the current product range and other exciting topics such as production at the Neckarsulm plant. The Audi exclusive Studio makes it possible to go far beyond the design options of the standard series.
- The Conference Center is popular among business customers for the extensive and personal service they enjoy there. In addition to traditional conferences and meetings, the flexible room concept also lends itself to creative workshop formats.
- Visitors can enjoy classy and even vegetarian meals at our in-house restaurant Nuvolari.
- With guided tours starting here, Audi Forum is both a brand experience world and the portal to the Audi plant. Tour guides give guests a glimpse at automobile production and acquaint them with the ins and outs of the site.
- The building also doubles as a venue for a variety of cultural events, from readings through to concerts and technology workshops for kids.
A total of 1,632 people work in the area of Technical Development at the Audi Neckarsulm site (as of 12/31/2021). The development of a complete high-voltage battery portfolio for fully electric vehicles will be located predominantly at that location. This strategic decision will intensify technical development for the future.
- Competence Center for high-voltage batteries: High-voltage batteries for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are already being produced in Neckarsulm. Now Audi is expanding high-voltage battery development there. In the future, personnel in high-voltage battery development – in continued close collaboration with high-voltage battery development at the Ingolstadt site – will be located primarily in Neckarsulm. Over the coming years, a growing number of employees will transform this division. Additionally, a battery testing center will also be opened: In this laboratory for pilot projects, employees with additional training who previously worked at the testing facility for combustion engines will be testing new high-voltage storage modules for various electric vehicles starting in 2024. The newly anchored high-voltage battery competency in Neckarsulm will additionally benefit from the expertise that is already available at that site: It will create synergies with the light-construction center.
- The right material in the right place in the right amount: The engineers at the Audi light-construction center develop for the whole group, not just the Audi brand, and in their work they also find solutions for the requirements of models with alternative drives – for example, the battery housings for electric cars. The goal of development is to design a car body that is both as light and stable as possible while remaining cost-efficient. The body of the future will therefore consist of an intelligent mix of materials that will vary in composition depending on the segment and drive type. The development of parts relies largely on simulation models to depict a digital twin of the real cars. This allows us to bring new technologies to mass production using a minimum number of test vehicles. The various lightweight-design technical centers at the site play a part in development, for example in testing and validating materials and developing them through to series maturity.
- Group Competence Center for Fuel Cell Technology: At the Fuel Cell Technology Competence Center, our development work focuses on readying technology for use in series production. The on-site Fuel Cell Technical Center develops, manufactures, and checks components on its own to optimize those properties relevant to their application, such as increasing efficiency, service life, and profitability.
Production and logistics
The great diversity of models produced at the site makes Neckarsulm one of the most complex plants in the Volkswagen Group. The Audi Supply Chain brings our customers’ needs to the plants, ensures supply with approximately 1,000 suppliers, and finally delivers the cars to the customers. In this way, it ensures that vehicle production and market supply are punctual, flexible, and efficient. Mastering complexity is essential to the model diversity at the plant. What it takes is speed, transparency, reliability, and digital factory transformation. Audi experts at the Neckarsulm site are working continuously to optimize processes and develop innovative IT solutions that advance digitalization in production and logistics. The 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 six days in advance – 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 base. The focus is on data from suppliers and forwarding agents as well as congestion information and data from other business areas. Data like this from the entire production value chain promote the transparency of supply chains and best possible predictions. We were able to reduce annual freight costs by a six-digit sum by visually processing and analyzing large volumes of data in this way.
- Smart logistics is the automated transport of parts and vehicles. Since the start of 2017, Audi has been using automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for automated material transport in its production buildings. The proven system is being constantly expanded to accommodate the latest production conditions. The goal is a fully automated supply chain.
- 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.
- The Automotive Initiative 2025:Audi is intensifying its smart factory efforts and working closely together with the Technical University of Munich and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization (IAO) at the educational campus in Heilbronn in the area of digitalization. Audi’s Automotive Initiative 2025 (AI25) aims to establish the world’s leading network of expertise for digital factory transformation and innovation. Within it, the Audi site in Neckarsulm will play a pivotal role as a pilot factory and real-world laboratory for the digital transformation in the Volkswagen Group. Relevant IT solutions and ideas will be provided by technology partners Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP as well as the joint venture XL2, which Audi founded together with the consultancy firm Capgemini.
- Smart maintenance: The “Predictive Maintenance” project in Neckarsulm makes upkeep on production facilities more efficient and reduces downtime in production. Maintenance experts collect and interpret associated data and can predict and even partially prevent wear on production equipment.
- A pilot project being conducted at Audi’s Neckarsulm site is using artificial intelligence to control the quality of spot welds in high-volume production. The long-term vision is that in the future, the quality of welding processes can be controlled automatically and continuously optimized. Up until now, production staff have used ultrasound to manually monitor the quality of resistance spot welding (abbreviated WPS in German) processes on the basis of random analyses. As part of the “WPS Analytics” pilot project, a team of experts is using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect quality anomalies automatically and in real time.
- 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 like this 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 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 employees’ needs. Moreover, in a current pilot project at the Neckarsulm site, plastic waste is being used to make 3D-printed tools for vehicle production. Packaging used to protect sensitive components is being collected, sorted by type, and processed as the raw material for 3D printers. A team of experts then uses the material to print tailor-made tools for vehicle production.