Beginning in 2016, the new plant in San José Chiapa, Mexico, will become the Audi Group’s fourteenth production site in the world. Many digital technologies are helping the company to shape its global growth. A large share of factory planning is being done with the help of virtual reality (VR) tools, for example. VR and augmented reality (AR) applications are found in all areas of the company today, making time-saving, cost-efficient planning possible.
Gigantic data set: the digital factory
At six meters (19.7 ft) wide and 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) high, the powerwall in the Audi plant planning facility is almost the size of a movie theater screen. The images it displays come from a digital projector and have a resolution of 6.7 million pixels. The computer cluster that generates the images consists of 11,520 processing cores. That’s equal to the computing power of 1,440 high-end laptops.
This technology allows the plant planners to build a new factory with all work areas as a complete digital model – before the first excavator even rolls onto the construction site. As a result, the employees can make sure that every last detail will mesh together flawlessly later when the facility is in operation – from the basic plant layout and logistics to the interplay of the facilities and equipment to the details of the individual process steps.
Audi has fully digitized its two main plants in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm and the sites in Győr, Hungary; Brussels, Belgium; and San José Chiapa, Mexico. The exterior of the plant in Mexico, for example, which is to begin operations next year, can already be displayed down to the last detail on the powerwall – even the shadows cast on the walls by the fire escapes. The imagery of the interior deliberately shows just the technical features. It shows the installations – supporting structure, wiring harnesses and robots – in “substitute colors,” which make quick, accurate orientation possible for the experts.
The plant planners can move around freely in these virtual spaces and, for example, check movement patterns of the robots in the body shop and operate welding guns. The virtual assembly planning enables them to closely inspect each workstation, with an eye to process safety of the procedures and ergonomics. The digital factory is transparent in every detail, even of complex processes like those involved in welding and painting procedures. In cooperation with the experts, the planners examine specifics like temperature simulation and fluid dynamics.
Exact match: augmented reality in the Pre-Series Center
The term “augmented reality” (AR) refers to a system that superimposes virtual information from a computer onto camera images of the real world. In the Pre-Series Center at the Ingolstadt site, Audi has installed a high-precision AR application named “Window to the World.” Audi is the first company in the world to use such a system. Window to the World is based on virtual imagery of the various parts of an automobile, which a computer creates by means of the car’s construction data.
The developers use the system to visualize different design variants of a prototype, for instance, and to compare them to one another. To do this they overlay photorealistic data on the camera image of the car, for example different bumper variants. That enables the company to dispense with the development of costly prototype components. “Window to the World” also makes it possible for the employees to examine a prototype or pre-series vehicle and determine with millimeter-exact precision if the components are properly installed. This makes it possible to fix possible errors while still in the development phase.
For comparison with the real model, a tripod-mounted camera films the part in question, while it is on the car, for example in the engine compartment. An infrared tracking system simultaneously determines the exact position of the camera image. A computer merges this camera image with the virtual depiction of the engine compartment, which is assembled from construction data.
If the specialist now would like to analyze whether a specific cooling hose is in precisely the right location, he films it with a hand-held camera. The program superimposes the desired position, based on the construction data, onto the actual position. If the components exactly overlap, the component matches the construction specifications. Should the positions differ, the employee can easily detect, analyze and correct this on the monitor in real time. With the “Window to the World” tool, the employees examine large parts of the car – from the chassis to the exterior and engine compartment, to the interior. The resulting variance analysis provides them with exact information – for the sake of uncompromising Audi quality.
Virtual showroom: the Audi VR experience
The Audi VR experience offers customers something unprecedented – the ability to use a virtual reality headset to configure their dream car. The customer can view the exterior from various perspectives, look into the luggage compartment, or sit in the driver’s seat. But there’s more: High-end headphones allow them to hear the full range of acoustic signals – from closing the doors to the quality of the sound system. The “immersion” experience – in the virtual world – is near perfect.
The VR headset works together with a powerful computer. The computer provides highly detailed data sets of all current Audi models – including interior and customization options. A camera follows the head movements of the user and adapts the imagery accordingly in the VR headset. The new technology will be ready for use at the first dealerships before the end of this year – with a special focus on the emerging growth markets. Mobile use is a possibility for the future, for example in a customer’s home.
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