Stuttgart, Germany - Mercedes-Benz calls it the car plant of the future, and says it’s the a whole new way of building cars. And it’s happening right now at Sindelfingen, 15 kilometres from downtown Stuttgart.
Construction began this week on what the maker calls ‘Factory 56’ - a completely digitally controlled, totally flexible production line in a new building that will bring new meaning to the term ‘green production’.
Although the cars will still be assembled by people, the components will be delivered to their workstations in product baskets carried by driverless transport systems. And by using Radio Frequency Identification technology, not only individual cars but also individual components can be tracked from inventory to the assembly line.
This will ensure that, although the next component the worker picks up off the rack may be totally different from the previous one, it will always be the right one for the car that’s in front of him.
It will also allow for data analysis on an enormous scale, using artificial intelligence to plan predictive maintenance, analyse production flows and predict quality control problems before they happen.
That way, recalls can be dealt with before the cars leave the factory, rather than after they’ve been sold to customers.
The building itself will be also be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, with an array of solar panels on the roof that will reduce electricity consumption from the grid by 5000 MWh a year. Translucent panels in the walls and roof will allow the assembly staff to work in daylight rather than by artificial lighting, creating a pleasant working climate than can be maintained at up to seven degrees cooler than the outside temperature.
And, although this has nothing to do with making cars, at 220 000 square metres, it is also the biggest single construction project ever undertaken in Germany.
The staff will work at ergonomically optimised stations, each with a touchscreen display for workflow information and back-up, and with each fastening tool automatically preset to the correct torque setting for that particular nut, bolt or screw.
Factory 56 is due to start production in 2020 of the next-generation S-Class sedans, as well the first pure electric EQ-Class models, and will serve as a blueprint for future Mercedes-Benz plants around the world.