People wherever possible. Robots only as needed. The heart of a
Mid-2013. A small break room at
But time is of the essence. Plans call for an engine plant that will serve the entire Volkswagen Group, so production capacity must be expanded. “We’ll get it done right,” assures Will. The decision is quickly made: the sports-car manufacturer will invest approximately $87 million; a new engine plant will be built in Zuffenhausen.
Three years later, on a hot summer day, Christian Will is in a celebratory mood. Series production has begun. “Everything went according to plan,” he says, even though
The 1,417-foot assembly line is located on the third floor. Brightly illuminated by modern LED lighting, the state-of-the-art facility is spotless—much like a highly specialized laboratory. With its white floors and cutting-edge machinery, the sleek layout of the factory sets completely new standards, refining our past conceptions of the future. Among the precision systems, employees stand out in their red shirts as they monitor machine operations on computer screens. Up to two hundred engines can be assembled in Zuffenhausen in just one day. Engine production is one of the company’s core areas of expertise. And at this new plant, highly qualified workers are tasked with building such an important part of each sports car—the world-famous
The production line is U-shaped. At one end, the cylinder crankcase is secured to a transporter—pure, naked metal, still without function. At the other end, a test bench checks the completed engine’s operations. This step is known as the cold test, and every engine must pass. The journey from start to finish on the production line takes precisely 6.2 hours, with the engine remaining on the moving rail system the entire time.
Similar to a slot-car racing track, the electric transporter system is in continuous operation. Large subassemblies, such as the cylinder head, are preinstalled and fed to the central line in a herringbone pattern. Replacements are supplied by automated electric conveyor vehicles—their routes guided by approximately 16,000 magnetic points installed in the floor. This modern single-line layout exemplifies
The new engine plant reflects
All machines and processes are designed to support the workers in a clearly structured environment. The workpiece carriers, for example, are constructed so that employees can adjust the height of the engines and rotate them 360 degrees. This capability is the ideal in ergonomic design for workers. “No one would expect heart surgeons to work with their hands above their heads,” Will says.
The plant is expected to produce up to twenty detailed variations of the eight-cylinder engine in the future. To ensure precise coordination of plans and results, each engine is immediately assigned an ID number that will accompany it throughout its life. All of the larger components also have a data matrix code, which means that every step in the assembly can be compared to the IT system in real time. The data from all ten tests that the engine must pass during the production process are also documented. With around 2,300 individual units of data, a digital twin of the real engine can be created. The aim is to prevent any fluctuation in quality from the start.
Modern engines are not only designed for high levels of performance—they should also consume ever lower levels of fuel. The new V8 gasoline engine in the
By the end of this decade
By Johannes Winterhagen
Photos by Heiko Simayer