The orange robots put on a virtuoso dance performance that shows the elegance of cutting-edge technology in a very special way. The machines aren’t working, however; they’re still rehearsing. They are practicing the last details of their programming. Once the choreography is perfect, the panel skins of more than 500 units of the new Audi A1 will be produced here each day.
Peter Vloeberghs, the man in charge of the new A1 body shop, is thrilled with the new helpers. “They just hum a quiet melody and chirp on occasion. There is no comparison to the loud whooshing and banging of the old robots. The new ones are also faster and use significantly less energy.”
Audi invested roughly €300 million in the future by upgrading the former Volkswagen plant in the Brussels suburb of Forest for the production of the A1, with a sizeable percentage of this money going into the new body shop. The compact Audi is expected to secure jobs in Brussels long-term.
From the very beginning, Audi has conducted intensive education and training measures to familiarize the team in Brussels with the Audi Production System (APS) and the group work that is new to this location. Painstaking quality analyses and constant product and process optimizations in the Start-up, Test and Analysis Center (APAZ) built at a cost of €10 million guarantee sustainable product quality.
Hundreds of robots: the body shop
The 368 robots equipped with state-of-the-art technology and recently placed into service in the body shop spend a lion’s share of their time joining panels. The quality of the weld points – particularly in those areas where hot-shaped, higher-strength steels are used – is tested ultrasonically at three stations.
71 measurement robots are used in addition to 200 handling geometric grippers. With their optical 3D instruments, they test 370 points on the body and another 75 on bolt-on components directly during the production sequence for dimensional accuracy.
Audi, the master of quality and precision, does not tolerate any inaccuracies, not even of a tenth of a millimeter. It goes without saying that the A1 also features high-precision, narrow and precisely parallel joints at the transitions between the fenders, doors and the side sections.
“In order to produce quality, the entire environment must be absolutely focused on quality,” says Vloeberghs, and points out the innovative plasmatron brazing at the water drain around the luggage compartment opening. The rear hatch and the rain gutters on the roof are laser welded and brazed for superior strength and appearance.
140 cycles: the assembly line
The assembly line was thoroughly revised. “We shortened the line from 240 to 140 work cycles,” explains Jan Maris, who heads the assembly plant. Audi shortened the timing of the A3 Sportback previously produced here to a faster rate of 98. Smaller stores and bunkers, shorter control loops and shorter distances – these are the basic requirements for the lean, future-oriented Audi Production System.
A non-slip wood floor and many intelligent ergonomic solutions are signs of the new times. The bodies pass through the assembly steps at the optimal ergonomic working height to relieve the strain on the workers. Specially designed, power-adjustable jigs make it possible to rotate the cockpits to a suitable angle. For the subsequent installation in the vehicle, Audi has developed an ergonomic chair on which the worker makes the engine-side bolted connections.
The workers receive their materials via the shortest possible distance from a marshalling area called the supermarket, with just-in-time filling and delivery of a “shopping cart” with the materials. Forklifts for resupply are passé in Brussels. A tractor with small trailers transports items more flexibly and safely.
Upstream of production is the state-of-the-art Start-up, Test and Analysis Center (APAZ). The quality check is the domain of the auditors, who are uncompromising in their search for even the slightest of irregularities in the pre-production models. The specialists from the Pre-Production Center are present at the production of the very first pre-production models and are thus almost like midwives on the line. They are organized into expert teams comprising both Belgian and German employees.
“Quality is when the customer returns, not the product.” This precept on a board in the Audi Training Center (ATC) serves as a motto for the entire factory. “With the production of the A1, we are giving the Brussels plant the opportunity to develop its own future,” says Alfons Dintner, General Manager of Technology and Logistics. And thus the opportunity to transfer the Audi premium standard to the compact class through high-precision manufacturing.
Standing out among the numerous environmental activities at the Brussels plant are the construction of a rainwater retention pond, the optimization of the energy requirements in the body shop, comprehensive soil remediation and the creation of a land registry, including the renovation of the sewage system. Audi also is having 100,000 new trees planted in the area around the city as part of the greening program mandatory for all Audi sites.
The equipment and data specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.