The rise of the Premium Digital Car CompanyBack to overview
Digitalization is more than just a technology for Vorsprung in the car itself. It is fundamentally changing all business processes. To this end, the biggest transformation in the company’s history is in full swing. Digitally networked technology is enhancing the quality of cooperation throughout all areas at Audi. The brand exhibition in Barcelona will showcase this in the form of numerous examples.
1. Virtual shopping experience: Audi VR experience and Customer Private Lounge
The automotive world is changing fast – and with it, the needs and expectations that people bring with them when looking to purchase a premium car. Today, nine out of ten customers looking for a new car first do some fact-finding online. Many wish to research the important details themselves. To do so, they use the manufacturers’ websites, forums and social media, thus benefiting from swarm intelligence.
Today, this in-depth initial fact-finding mission usually precedes a visit to the dealer. As a result, by the time customers consult with the experts at the dealership, their expectations are higher when it comes to making comparisons, weighing up pros and cons and configuring vehicles to individual requirements. At the Summit, Audi is showcasing two solutions that will help to address these higher expectations: the Customer Private Lounge and a VR application.
1.1 The Audi VR experience
The latest generation of virtual reality allows customers to configure every Audi model to their own specific requirements. Wearing the VR headset, they will see their dream car appear directly in front of them, as if it were actually standing there. Thanks to stereoscopic 3D rendering and complex data models, the effect is very realistic, right down to the smallest of details.
The Audi VR experience also opens up further fascinating possibilities. Customers can experience their vehicles in a variety of different environments, take a virtual dive into specific parts of the vehicle to explore their technical design or witness special moments of the Audi brand in VR.
Audi has focused a great deal of its development efforts on performance and graphics quality which is based on game engine technology. Created in conjunction with British specialist Zerolight, it is specifically optimized for virtual reality. It combines consistently superior visual quality with very fluid image depiction. The game engine fluidly outputs the complex car data models stereoscopically in the VR headset at 90 frames per second and has a fast response time of less than 20 milliseconds.
Audi is the first vehicle brand to introduce a sophisticated VR system into its sales operations and in so doing is offering customers considerable added value as they make their purchasing decisions. It is fully integrated into Audi’s IT systems and the online presence is always kept up-to-date with the latest data from the product portfolio. In order to use it in a dealership, Audi has opted for VR glasses from long-term project partner Oculus. The headset will allow customers to experience their future Audi in virtual reality from the comfort of their seat.
Audi has also developed an expanded version for special formats such as brand events or trade fairs. With this version, the visitor, wearing a VR headset from HTC, remains standing and can move freely around a five meter (16.4 ft) square surface to explore the virtual car. Alternatively, he or she can sit in the virtual driver’s or front-passenger seat and take in all the visual details of the interior. This latest version of the system allows users to experience the virtual car in a very natural way.
1.2 Audi Customer Private Lounge
Audi customers are trendsetters in the digital world and have high expectations on the brand’s presence. Especially when they want to experience their new Audi to the full with all their senses. Enter the concept of the “Audi Customer Private Lounge”, which the premium brand developed initially for its Audi City sales concept and its future retail operations. In a separate, fully digitalized suite, visitors are able to configure their dream car, view it in almost life-like detail as a virtual model and adapt it to their requirements. This concept unites digital innovation with the expertise and personal attention typically offered by stationary trading methods.
AUDI AG has developed the concept together with international IT partners. For the first time, the dealer is able to present the diversity of the Audi portfolio, with all its technologies and equipment options, and to explain every detail clearly. The Lounge is equipped with a number of specially developed digital features. The high-tech system is controlled using a tablet. This means the salesperson can remain at the customer’s side while he or she configures their dream car.
With the tap of a fingertip, the individual Audi model can be transferred to the Audi VR experience, ready to be explored down to the last detail, be it the stitching on the leather seats or the various Audi lighting technologies.
The Customer Private Lounge provides a space for an in-depth and exclusive brand experience and a quiet environment for personal consultations.
2. Metal 3D printing: from toolmaking to the lunar mission
One excellent example of the Vorsprung that defines the Audi brand is additive manufacturing. In its most challenging form, this manufacturing approach is not just about the technology. It’s also about securing tomorrow’s Vorsprung today. Gathering experiences. Demonstrating expertise. Breaking new ground. At the Audi Summit, the topic of metal 3D printing will be used to demonstrate this aspect of Vorsprung.
3D printers that create objects out of powdered plastic are already firmly established. The next stage in their evolutionary process is the metal 3D printer. Audi is developing this expertise in the newly founded Metal 3D Printing Center at Audi’s production facilities. Here, Audi’s toolmaking and technological development experts manufacture steel and aluminum parts from metal powder using the laser melting process. This process is already being used in series production tools. Individual components for limited production vehicles could, perspectively, also be produced using this method in the years ahead.
In principle, all metals that can be welded are suitable for 3D printing; tool steel as well as aluminum or titanium. The process starts with metal powder with a grain size of 15 to 60 thousandths of a millimeter – as fine as a human hair. The printer deposits the powder in thin layers and the laser then melts it in accordance with the CAD data, to create the contours of the part. By means of metal 3D printing, objects can be produced with freeform highly complex geometries that would be very difficult or impossible to manufacture with other production methods. With the help of 3D printing, you can literally drill around corners.
Typical examples of such applications are steel parts with integral cooling channels or cooling grids of the type used in casting tools. Analyses and tests show that printed parts exhibit the same material properties as conventionally manufactured components. As a result of the complex geometries used, it’s even possible to achieve much greater component rigidity despite the lower weight.
Full steam ahead to the moon
Audi is aiming high with this new technology. As far as the moon, in fact! That’s where they will be taking the self-driving reconnaissance vehicle, the Audi lunar quattro. More than 85 percent of the vehicle is made from printed aluminum.
As part of the “Mission to the Moon”, a team of Berlin-based engineers by the name of the “Part-Time Scientists” aims to explore the moon around a landing site of one of NASA’s Apollo moon missions for the first time in more than 45 years. And Audi is supporting their efforts. A group of 16 Audi experts has been assisting the Part-Time Scientists with expertise in a number of technical fields, including optimizing the rover for the lunar mission.
In order to boost stability and increase the contact surface, the engineers and designers enlarged the rover and its wheels by more than ten centimeters (3.9 in). At the same time, they reduced its weight from more than 38 kilograms (83.8 lb) to under 30 (66.1 lb) by optimizing the material mix and with the aid of aluminum-based 3D printing.
The wheels of the Audi lunar quattro, for example, have a wall thickness of just one millimeter (0.04 in), but thanks to a sophisticated design are guaranteed to have the requisite strength. As a result of the huge weight savings achieved on the wheels as well as elsewhere, the researchers are now able to load the rover with more scientific equipment to the value of 1.8 million euros. The savings will also allow the mission to carry more fuel. Development engineers were also able to run sophisticated tests, for instance in the Audi sun simulation chamber, to simulate the extreme conditions on the moon and examine the suitability of the rover’s components. An example of prototype development in the form of an original wheel variant of the lunar vehicle is on show at the Audi Summit.
3. Modular assembly: no assembly line, just dancing racks
The production of premium-class cars is becoming increasingly complex. This is because new market requirements, customer expectations and legislative frameworks increasingly call for innovative technologies and different vehicle variants. For more than a century, the fixed-interval assembly line was unbeatably efficient. But now, it’s losing this Vorsprung and the linear, fixed working procedure is, in some cases, even becoming part of the problem.
Because customers want differentiation, their cars are becoming more and more individual. As a result, the number of derivatives and variants grows and grows. And as it does so, it becomes more difficult to manage the high levels of complexity and integrate additional workflows into a rigid sequential process. A particularly well-equipped Audi S3
(combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 7.1 – 6.4* (33.1 – 36.8 US mpg); combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 163 – 146* (262.3 – 235.0 g/mi)), for example, requires numerous work steps to be carried out in a specific work cycle. While a less complexly equipped model also passes through the work cycle in question but with less added value This takes up space, time and money.
Audi is meeting this challenge and, in Barcelona, is demonstrating a revolutionary solution: modular assembly. Small, separate workstations support highly flexible workflows, both in terms of time and space. Driverless transport systems (DTS) transport the bodies and the required parts between these workstations.
A central computer controls the DTS with pinpoint accuracy; it identifies what each station needs, thereby ensuring a smooth workflow. And there’s one more significant effect: the person no longer has to keep pace with the cycle, as has been the case for a hundred years. The modular production method allows the individual needs of the employees at the various stations to be taken into account. One Vorsprung that will benefit all employees immediately.
For a few months now, “arculus”, a startup company established by an Audi employee, has been developing and testing the key principles of this new production system, working alongside the logistics division. Audi will be assembling electric motors using a modular assembly concept at its plant in Győr, Hungary. Series production is scheduled to start in 2018. There are also plans to implement parts of the modular assembly concept in a pre-assembly area at the Brussels plant.
Audi anticipates that modular production will increase productivity by at least 20 percent compared with today’s production line system.
3.1 The paint shop of the future
The present-day paint shop in essence still follows the same logic as assembly line production. The painting process involves the vehicle bodies passing through a fixed production chain structure where the different coats of paint are applied in a highly automated process. In between the individual process steps, the painted bodies also pass through a standardized dryer. In subsequent steps, corrosion protection and body sealing measures are applied. Everything takes place in a closely interlinked production chain. A long, linear route that’s highly efficient and thus as sustainable as it can possibly be. Here too, Audi has already taken major steps forward.
However, in the Smart Factory, the modular assembly process of the future is not about taking steps, but leaps. And this goes for the paint shop too. An animation of the paint shop of the future – demonstrating how the individual Audi will get its color in a highly efficient process – is being shown at the Audi Summit.
To this end, the manufacturer breaks with the chain concept, replacing it with a modular process, including in the various subareas of the painting process. Audi expects these structural changes to increase efficiency in application technology. In addition, special paint processes can be cost-effectively and sustainably integrated, thereby ensuring that the ever-increasing customer demands can also be met in this important area of individualization.
The paint shop of the future is based around a central store of vehicle bodies, alternative dryer concepts and module systems in selected sub-areas. Here too, therefore, every vehicle body can be optimally integrated into the production process according to its individual workload and content; only visiting those stations where work is actually required. Other bodies can skip such stages or move on to other steps.
By implementing a modular structure as part of the Smart Factory, the Audi paint shop of the future, will, among other things, ensure that individual processes – so important for constructing a car in accordance with the customer’s personal preferences – can be optimized to make it both highly efficient and sustainable. The result guarantees not only the highest possible flexibility, but also maximum customer focus. One Vorsprung that will be visible to every customer.
3.2 Driverless transport systems
Driverless Transport Systems (DTS) are a core technology of the Smart Factory. This Vorsprung is being demonstrated live at the Audi Summit by means of the Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV). This system is helping to revolutionize conventional production processes. Greater production flexibility also means greater opportunity for developing even more individualization options for the customer.
The AGV from Audi uses an intelligent system for navigation which was designed by the company on the basis of software which was specifically developed for this purpose within the automobile sector. As a result, they are able to bring goods from the store to the assembly line entirely freely and autonomously. They are able to detect complicated traffic situations and respond flexibly. The navigation system allows the AGV to move autonomously on a defined route which has been devised and simulated on the computer beforehand; alternatively, the AGV can learn and store a route during a manually guided run. Based on this map, it then moves freely within its radius. As it does so, it applies the principle of machine learning and constantly seeks the best path.
The Audi AGV – known in-house as “Paula” – has three on-board laser scanners, two at the front and one at the rear. These allow “Paula” to orientate herself and prevent her from colliding with people. The human has priority at all times. One of the front scanners is angled upwards so that it is even able to identify objects suspended from the ceiling.
The sensors are also used to record measurement data. The computer of the AGV then compares this data with the stored map data. At the same time, the navigation software compares the data measurements from the laser scanner with the wheel rotations. This enables even more precise localization.
Speed is limited to 4.2 kilometers per hour (2.6 mph). All braking is anticipatory, gentle and consequently energy efficient; when calculating the braking, the development engineers used similar algorithms to those which Audi used for controlling Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) in their cars.
With its laser scanners, the AGV recognizes the workpiece trailer from its contours. The AGV drives up to it with millimeter accuracy, even if it is not standing exactly in its predefined position. The same precision is applied when parking over the charging plate. A touch display at the front, an extensive visual signal concept and voice output allow communication and interaction with the surroundings.
At Audi’s Technical Center for Production Assistance Systems, the AGV’s navigation system has now reached the third prototype stage and is close to series production. Like its predecessors, all aspects of “Paula” have been developed entirely in-house by Audi. Even the software is an in-house development. Since March of this year, the AGV is used in series production of the Audi A3/Q2 at the Ingolstadt plant.
DTS technology has huge potential: by networking the navigation data of several individual vehicles with an overarching fleet manager, it is possible to create an intelligent overall system. This will exponentiate the efficiency benefits.
3.3 Dancing racks
There is never just one way of achieving tomorrow’s Vorsprung. Once the goal is defined, implementing various working solutions to achieve it is precisely the mark of an innovative company. Proof of this Vorsprung is on show in the grounds of the Barcelona exhibition center where Audi is demonstrating another innovation in the field of Driverless Transport Systems (DTS), namely the so-called “dancing racks”.
The goal is very similar: the Smart Factory aims to increase efficiency and flexibility whilst at the same time allowing the person to set the pace. When it comes to the “dancing racks”, however, how that goal is achieved is very different. That’s because these vehicles have neither sophisticated computer control nor highly sensitive sensors.
This Driverless Transport System is controlled by the “Audi Laser Tracking System” via external sensors. Furthermore, this is the first and only system in which several vehicles positioned one behind the other can be recognized and controlled by one single laser scanner. This is a revolutionary approach. And Audi has already filed a patent application for it.
The invention is ideal for ensuring that parts show up at the right place at the right time. Logistics experts refer to this proficiency as the goods-to-person principle. The parts come to the employee whenever he or she requires them.
In addition, the employee no longer has to gather together the parts required in the “supermarket” and take them to the line workstation. And in any case, there won’t be an assembly line as part of the modular assembly system of the networked Audi Smart Factory, as it will have been dispensed with in line with the final development phase. Just like an A la carte restaurant, every car entering the assembly station puts together its own parts menu. The “dancing racks” then serve this up.
Bundled technology makes it all possible. The laser scanner recognizes each driverless transport vehicle (DTV) using the four 10-centimeter (3.9 in) tall aluminum reflector bars located at each corner. Apart from the bars, nothing else lies in this plane, so the laser beams are able to detect any DTVs located in a row one behind the other. The entire recognition and control process can be done from outside via the laser scanner and a PC. The vehicles receive the corresponding control commands via Wi-Fi.
And because the expensive, complex and heavy technology is not contained in the DTV itself, but solely in the command center, a very compact and energy-saving design can be achieved. However, the system doesn’t make any compromises when it comes to accuracy: the laser scanner ensures that the DTV can be positioned very accurately, to within less than a centimeter (0.4 in) of its target, in fact. Right where the human picker is waiting for his or her part. The “Dancing Rack” can also speak. Via the integral voice output system, it can notify its human partner of its current status – for example that it is approaching its target.
The dancing analogy is not a far-fetched one either: the rack can move in all directions – diagonally, to the left and right, forwards and backwards. It can even turn on the spot. All while interacting with other DTVs in the assembly area. Synchronous control works particularly well with this system as the sensor data is processed centrally.
And because the reflector-covered aluminum bars sometimes get hidden whilst the system is on the move, the recognition algorithm is robust enough to manage even if up to two bars on each vehicle cannot be scanned. The DTV will still find its target.
The system is still undergoing a trial phase. It can already master an operating radius of 18 meters (59.1 ft) with ease. It might even be possible, therefore, for one single scanner to cover a 30-meter-wide (98.4 ft) hall. To increase the range, several scanners can be combined into a sensor network. A later development stage could even see the scanner moving with the racks. This will open up new areas for this technology as no costly installation is required.
3.4 Sitting pretty – without a seat
Vorsprung can also be achieved sitting down: in the German automobile industry, when it comes to ergonomics, Audi is a truly innovative leader. That’s because good ergonomics in the manufacturing environment reduces physical strain, increases the efficiency of the production processes and ensures consistently high product quality. Visitors to the Audi Summit are able to see these benefits in action in the form of the “chairless chair”.
The “chairless chair” is a so-called passive exoskeleton. While working, employees wear it like a second pair of legs which always provide support whenever it’s needed. It is affixed to the back of the legs and, like a chair, improves a person’s posture while carrying out their work. Two seat surfaces support the buttocks and thighs, and the two struts in carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) transfer part of the body weight to the ground. The struts are jointed behind the knee and can be hydraulically adjusted to the person’s body size and the desired seating position.
Thanks to its lightweight construction, the “chairless chair” weighs just 2.4 kilograms (5.3 lb) and thus doesn’t constitute additional strain for the wearer. For many assembly operations, it allows employees to sit in an ergonomically beneficial position instead of standing – even with short working intervals. At the same time, this high-tech supporting structure improves posture and reduces strain on the legs.
The exoskeleton has already been successfully tested by Audi at a number of workstations. Based on the results from the pilot test phase, Audi, together with manufacturer noonee – a Swiss startup – has developed the “chairless chair” further in order to bring it to series production maturity for subsequent widespread introduction as an ergonomic aid. The goal is to improve the ergonomic working conditions of employees, to prevent excessive strain, to avoid illness-related downtime and, in particular, to ensure that older employees or those with a physical disability can be given a valued position in the production process.
4. Smart logistics: wearables and virtual reality training
Whoever is faster achieves Vorsprung. Quick action and reaction times should be beneficial to quality and customer-friendliness. In Barcelona, this is demonstrated in the form of four examples from the logistics division.
4.1 Wearable scanner
An innovative scanner glove has replaced conventional barcode scanners at selected workstations in the CKD (Completely Knocked Down) packing area of the international logistics facility in Ingolstadt. The scanner is already integrated into the “ProGlove” as it is called. The employee starts the scanning function simply by pressing their index finger against their thumb. The device in the glove does not need to be focused on the barcode.
The scanning function is integrated in the natural hand movement. Optical (LED light), acoustic (buzzer) and tactile (vibration) signals tell the order picker that the item has been scanned.
The scanner communicates wirelessly with the receiver unit. This access point is connected via USB or a conventional serial connection and installation of additional software is not required. The battery charge is designed to last the period of one shift and can be fully recharged within two hours. By having the scanner integrated into the glove, the employee has both hands free to do his or her job. The number of hand movements required is also reduced – employees no longer have to pick up and put down the scanner for instance. It also minimizes walking. The work routine is more ergonomic as a result.
The Vorsprung achieved with this ergonomically optimized technology is already being piloted in a number of different areas within the Ingolstadt plant. Meanwhile, in Neckarsulm, the ProGlove is undergoing extensive testing. And Audi employees in Belgium, Hungary and Mexico are also already scanning with just the flick of the hand. Widespread introduction is in sight.
4.2 Virtual reality training
Vorsprung doesn’t always have to be a leap. Often, it’s also simply important to make the latest technology available to all employees concerned. And whoever manages to do so to the fullest extent, both practically and quickly, will reap substantial benefits in the global competitive environment. Even in the field of employee training, digital technologies make noteworthy efficiency gains possible.
An excellent example of this can be seen at the Audi Summit: virtual reality training for logistics. Until now, Audi’s logistics employees around the world used to undergo training with real components and containers, which meant these had to be available at the training centers. And that takes up both space and time.
Moreover, there is no training center for CKD Logistics (Completely Knocked Down) in Ingolstadt that can train employees in systems engineering, software and the use thereof. The perfect opportunity, then, for a new approach, a new type of training.
An innovative training concept based on the use of virtual reality headsets which provide all the materials necessary for logistics training in this area. Using the VR headset, the logistics specialists are able to see a previously programmed depiction of their logistics workstation from any location. Virtual images of all the necessary containers and parts are right there in front of them. They are even able to grasp their work tools and move them around. To do so, they operate two controllers by hand; these serve as their hands in the virtual world and they are able to see and move them.
The new technology not only saves time, space and money. It also overcomes distances and language barriers. Because in the future, employees from Logistics will also have the opportunity to train on other facilities worldwide at the same time and with other employees. An employee in the Logistics division in Ingolstadt, for example, will be able to operate virtually at the Mexico plant, and vice versa.
The pilot phase at the training center in Ingolstadt has impressed employees. As a result of this positive feedback, the new technology will now be used for other areas of the company and in plants around the world. Nothing gets in the way of the rapid spread of Vorsprung. The technical equipment required for this can fit into a single suitcase.
4.3 Autonomous forklift trucks at the Logistics Center
Autonomous forklift trucks are also about to go into routine use. At present, container transport at the Logistics Center at Audi in Ingolstadt is carried out with conventional forklift trucks driven by trained employees. Everything is controlled from the driver’s seat – from approaching the high-rack storage to picking up and putting down of transport containers.
Autonomously guided forklift trucks will soon be taking over these tasks within the packing operation for the delivery of small parts. These trucks require less space, perform transport tasks more efficiently and reduce the risk of accidents at work. These benefits have been achieved thanks to the interaction between innovative technologies such as a 3D laser scanner for navigation and a number of safety sensors. Scanner and sensors together create a 360-degree safety radius around the forklift truck.
The trial run at Audi consists of several tasks: the autonomous forklift truck has to independently place large-load carriers into a high rack and take them out again. The second part of the test is autonomous delivery of the containers to where they are needed and bringing back surplus content. The large variety of containers presents a huge challenge. The forklift truck detects obstacles on its route with ease and waits until the way is clear before continuing with its transport task. If the autonomous forklift truck detects a problem in its routine, it independently warns the workstations concerned about the type of problem and initiates remedial actions.
4.4 Ray the parking robot
Systematically networked technology, combined with autonomous systems, allow significant efficiency gains to be achieved in the field of transport logistics too. In Ingolstadt, Audi has automated vehicle transportation by rail to a large extent. To this end, “Ray” the electrically powered parking robot sorts up to 2,000 cars per day for loading onto railway wagons.
Ten parking robots currently autonomously transport the new cars from the production facility to the railway loading point. To do this, each of the roughly six meters long by three meters wide (19.7 ft x 9.8 ft) robots, has a system of laser sensors. This measures the position, length and width of a car and adjusts the lifting systems accordingly. The central control system assigns a space to each robot where it can park the pre-sorted vehicle via the shortest route.
Once a sufficient number of cars have been accumulated for the same transport destination, the robots prepare the cars for loading onto the railway wagons. The driverless transport systems complete up to 8,000 movements per day and cover about 500 kilometers (310.7 miles). Ray even keeps an eye on its own charge status: if its batteries are running low, the robot docks itself in a changing station in good time. There, a fully automated battery change station swaps the entire battery unit for another one in the space of just a few minutes.
Ray is an example of Vorsprung from digitally networked technology that works. Outstandingly so, in fact: this driverless transport system has won Audi the 2017 VDA Logistics Award.
The equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.