A total of 1,728 people work in the area of Technical Development at Audi’s site in Neckarsulm (as of December 31, 2017). The main focus is on the development of fuel-cell technology, the Lightweight Design Center and engine development.
Lightweight design: Audi has established lightweight construction as a key element of modern automotive engineering. With the Audi A8* in 1994, the company launched the first car in the world produced in a large series with a unitary aluminum body. Since then, Audi has continually expanded its expertise. At Audi’s Lightweight Design Center in Neckarsulm, approximately 170 people cooperate closely with research institutes and industrial partners. The expertise gained has so far resulted in a triple-digit number of lightweight-construction patents.
The main tasks of the Lightweight Design Center are based around the development of bodies, their functions and materials. Different requirements and alternative drives, for example, present new tasks and challenges. Especially in this field, the engineers develop solutions for body structures and assemblies for the Audi brand and for the Group, such as the battery housings for the electric models. The goal of development is to design the bodies to be as light as possible while remaining economical. Since 2017, Cabriolet development in the competence center is also integrated in the Neckarsulm location.
Aluminum, high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, magnesium and fiber-reinforced polymers – Audi has detailed and comprehensive knowledge of all body materials from its development work and use in series production. The philosophy here is: “The right amount of the right material in the right place.” The engineers at the Neckarsulm Lightweight Design Center are pushing the competition between materials forwards, constantly in search of even better solutions. The body of the future will consist of this so-called intelligent multi-material mix and will differ in its composition depending on the segment and the drive.
The company has steadily expanded its expertise, also in the area of manufacturing; numerous high-tech methods have been added. These innovative technologies are implemented at strategically important suppliers, which in turn supply Audi and other brands of the Volkswagen Group. In the field of lightweight construction, the engineers focus not only on the materials, but on the entire production chain – with innovative solutions for process technology, bonding technologies, quality assurance and service and repair possibilities.
Center of development for fuel cell technology: The main center of development for fuel-cell technology, one of the key technologies within the Volkswagen Group, is based at the Neckarsulm site. In 2017, the independent organizational unit opened a fuel-cell competence center in the project-house mold. To facilitate this, appropriate infrastructure was implemented at the Neckarsulm site: The hydrogen fueling station at the location was modernized and special test beds for fuel-cell systems and components were put into operation. Audi plans to bring a small-series vehicle with fuel cell drive onto the market at the start of the next decade.
In order to prepare employees for this new challenge in the best way possible, the company commenced a comprehensive “Fuel Cell Development” qualification program in the winter semester of 2017. This comprises training that caters for the most diverse requirements and levels of competence and ranges from basic training for beginners to internal training for technical experts to further training at university level for fuel cell developers. The Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) in Mannheim is partnering the “Fuel Cell Development” dual university program. Through a combination of lectures and practical exercises, the participants gain deeper knowledge on subjects such as hydrogen storage, fuel-cell structure and measuring performance. The further training is vocational and lasts three months.
Engine development: The development of various engines is an important cornerstone of the Neckarsulm site. In addition to V diesel and V gasoline engines, the engines for motorsport applications are also developed here.