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In the Audi Production Lab, experts work on identifying new and innovative technologies and reliably integrating them into the production process.

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Audi Explains How It Innovates Production Without Production Hell

As St. Elon of Texas said, “Prototypes are easy. Production is hard.”

Prototypes tend to get most of the media attention because we all like to see new things. A fancy new design is exciting because it’s something we’ve never seen before, and in the most exciting case, the new prototype has exciting capabilities that aren’t on the road today. But that’s the easy part compared to making hundreds of thousands of good copies of the car so we can get them in our driveway.

Once a product or technology is ready to be mass-produced, it needs to meet the highest standards of quality and reliability. This is where Audi’s Production Lab (or P-Lab for short) comes in.

The Production Lab is a research and development facility where new technologies and production processes are put to the test. The goal is to find out if they have the potential to be used on a large scale. To develop future technologies, including those that are cutting-edge and innovative, while also integrating them into manufacturing processes, is the goal. In Gaimersheim, a short drive from Ingolstadt, P-Lab director Henning Löser’s staff evaluates trailblazing new ideas for series production. That implies finding and testing solutions to ensure that efficiency, ergonomics, flexibility, and quality are improved in Audi facilities.

What Audi’s Production Lab Is Like

The hall in Gaimersheim is a mishmash of a shop floor and an IT lab that feels like no other. The 5G antennas are in one corner. An industrial robot is placed on its base diagonally across from them. Server cabinets are located behind it. IT professionals work at computers while experts observe how the machines interact with each other and how data is transmitted.

“We take an idea that worked once under lab conditions and get it off the ground so it can go into stable 24/7 operation,” Löser explains. “We don’t need a big sofa or a football table for that.”

Every day, experts look for and test new high-tech solutions like Ingolstadt shop floor IT or 5G for mass production suitability. A real production environment is much more essential for Löser. Because Audi could not test new technologies in the past, new technology evaluation was limited. In 2012, the company with the four rings established the Production Lab to help remedy this problem. Since then, Henning Löser’s staff has been developing and testing smart assistance systems that employees use together with new variations in the mesh between person and machine. These technologies save money while also constantly enhancing and improving workplace ergonomics through procedural safety.

For example, modular assembly, Audi’s assembly and logistics concept, which is the only one of its kind in the world. “In the process, we are constantly in touch with our colleagues in production so we can be sure we can implement our ideas,” says Löser, who has overseen the P-Lab since 2016. “We show them exactly what we’re working on. There’s no point in us developing something theoretical that nobody uses in practice. We test and learn.”

The P-Lab has a long-term approach to planning and executing projects. Löser claims that traditional production planning did not allow for such flexibility. 5G is one such example. Since 2018, the P-Lab in Gaimersheim has utilized a 5G base station. 5G as a radio network for automated manufacturing calls for different standards than downloading videos. For example, controlling the equipment necessitates using URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications). The Gaimersheim tests helped the company figure out global 3GPP standards and contribute them to organizations that develop those.

“We did our part to make 5G function seamlessly as a radio standard in automation,” Löser explains. The lab’s work ranges from controls for a safety cell with robots that must turn everything off within ten milliseconds to logistics applications that link containers using massive device connectivity. “We’ll need that when it comes to the future of production and logistics,” says Löser.

Henning Löser, Head of Audi Production Lab, works with radio equipment and servers to optimize its use in production environments.

Reliability Is The #1 Concern & Goal

Looking into the future doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep an eye on where your feet are so you don’t trip. The Audi P-Lab, as well as other automobile manufacturers, requires a stable production environment. “Our goal is 99.9 percent reliability,” says Löser. “We must assess how good uptime is in daily use.” How good is the corresponding service concept? How should colleagues from maintenance be trained so that the new application operates without interruption? “We only transfer new technology into production when our colleagues say something truly helps them,” the P-Lab boss explains. Another crucial element is whether there is a suitable area of application in the manufacturing process for a new technology at all.

When Automation Requires More People Than Manual Labor

Another problem Audi’s team said they came across was that automated systems can be a lot faster, but they themselves are complex and take a lot of work.

“If we use 100,000 cameras in production, we also have 100,000 industrial PCs that do the assessment,” Löser explains. “But then who takes care of maintenance and repairs on that equipment? Who updates the operating systems? At some point, the cost of maintenance exploded.”

Another illustration is driverless cars. The more Audi employs, the more functionality and fleet managers it requires. Like driverless cars, IT automation and reliability is key. This includes equipment maintenance and monitoring. “The overall efficiency has to be right,” says Löser. The solution: work based on software and cloud technology. Updates go via the server — with three mouse clicks. Löser says, “Right now, we’re running our shop floor IT in the Ingolstadt Heifer via a central server solution.”

Interaction With Real Production Sites

Audi’s Production Lab doesn’t want to become an ivory tower where they have lots of good ideas but no connection to the real world of building cars for customers. Today, more than 30 employees from the Production Lab collaborate with the various sites. Because inter-departmental workers from all production departments work together in the P-Lab on a variety of projects, the number of employees is multiplied five or six times by temporary lab users.

“Something is always going on in the P-Lab. Direct interaction with the users is important,” says Löser.

Featured image provided by Audi.

 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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