Big factories are usually imagined as rather dark, noisy and very busy places. However, if you would try to imagine factory of the future, it would be dominated by robots and would be mostly quiet. That is what automotive manufacturer Mercedes-Benz managed to achieve in Ludwigsfelde plant, where big vans are being made.
The Sprinter assembly hall is particularly quiet and clean, as company managed to get rid of countless wire baskets, shelves and carriers full of necessary materials by using driverless transport trucks.
More than 200 large vans are manufactured there every day. These driverless trucks supply the assembly personnel on the line with prepared goods baskets from the logistics and picking areas fully autonomously. It means that no actual people have to be involved in the process of delivering parts and materials to the assembly line.
Mercedes calls this an “intelligent production”. Sebastian Streuff, Manager of Mercedes-Benz Werk Ludwigsfelde GmbH, said that the plant is the leading automotive manufacturing plant when it comes to intelligent solutions to vehicle production. He said that Ludwigsfelde plant today is “a shining example of the use of innovative production systems in the Mercedes-Benz Vans worldwide production network”.
The plant has around 2000 employees and is a major employer in the region of Brandenburg. The Ludwigsfelde factory started making steps towards intelligent production back in 2012. One of the most important objectives was to streamline the interface and collaboration between assembly line and logistics.
At firsts, experts the assembly, logistics and production planning departments examined the situation and looked for areas that could be improved in order to make the whole process more efficient. Biggest improvements were reached in delivering the parts to their destined plants. Mercedes is using van’s door assembly as an example.
There used to be numerous carts of carriers with parts and materials that had to be fitted to the door. Workers had to locate, fetch and install the parts themselves. Now there are just few of such carriers and data terminals. Instead, driverless delivery trucks now deliver the parts to the correct vehicle on the line just in sequence and just in time. This was not an easy achievement.
Sprinter vans are being produces in a huge variety of combinations, in terms of installed engine, body type, colour, wheelbase and so on. Mercedes says there are over 350 different combinations. All of these different variants need different parts fitted, which makes this delivery process particularly complex. But sophisticated IT networks deals with this task and each vehicle gets the right parts at the right time and sequence.
These driverless transport trucks eliminate need for unloading as well. The carsets with the cargo are positioned directly to the line. Worker has to take the cart with the parts, attach it to the pendant and start installing them. Such system brings variety of advantages – improved ergonomics, shorter walking distances, safer work environment and saving of space at the assembly line. Driverless transport trucks have become an integral part of the production process and brought significant gains in terms of efficiency as assembly time became shorter and safety, because there is no need for forklifts.
Mercedes-Benz is happy about the achievements of intelligent production line. However, corporation will continue to invest in the Ludwigsfelde plant, aiming for even greater efficiency in other parts of the manufacturing process as well. The automotive manufacturer announced plan to invest €150 million in Ludwigsfelde alone to modernize the body shop, paint shop and assembly line. In other words, automotive factories are becoming more and more futuristic in the use of robots and smart logistic solutions.