A new car factory is not the most exciting topic to talk about, but when Mercedes promises it will have the “most modern automobile production halls in the world,” it immediately gets our undivided attention. Already previewed some months ago, Factory 56 is making the headlines once again courtesy of a nearly six-minute-long virtual tour showing all the magic that will take place at the state-of-the-art factory in Sindelfingen, Germany.
The 220,000-square-meter (54.36-acre) plant will be tasked to put together the next-generation S-Class as well as high-end fully electric EQ models, and eventually, self-driving cars. Powered entirely by CO₂-neutral energy, the factory will run a pilot program for 5G-mobile phone technology and basically everything will be interlinked. In the assembly hall, digital devices will completely replace physical documents to create a paperless environment.
Gallery: Mercedes-Benz Factory 56 Construction
To get an idea of how advanced Factory 56 is going to be, even the once basic screwdriver will have built-in Wi-Fi functionality and will use the fast connection to automatically adjust torque based on the data received. Still not impressed? There will be a total of 300 driverless transport systems serving as automated shopping carts to provide the necessary materials shipped to a designated pick up zone.
As the video explains, Mercedes relies on automation only where it’s economically useful, adding that no system or machine is as flexible as a human being. While Factory 56 is being built to optimize the production process as much as possible, customers will also benefit from its highly advanced and modular configuration by being able to make last-minute changes to their car configurations.
Factory 56 will be up and running in 2020 and is going to feature a photovoltaic system mounted on the building’s roof to provide electricity not just for the daily operations, but also to feed the charging stations.
Film and key visuals show concept and operating principles of "Factory 56": Mercedes-Benz Cars significantly increases flexibility and efficiency with "Factory 56"
- Eight months after the cornerstone ceremony for one of the most modern automobile production halls in the world, Mercedes-Benz Cars for the first time gives an insight in the operating principles of "Factory 56".
- "In 'Factory 56', we are consistently implementing innovative technologies and processes across the board according to the key terms 'digital, flexible, green'. We create a modern workspace with more attention to individual requirements of our employees. All in all, in 'Factory 56' we are significantly increasing flexibility and efficiency in comparison to our current vehicle assembly halls - and of course without sacrificing our top quality. In this way we are setting a new benchmark in the global automotive industry", says Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain.
Stuttgart/Sindelfingen – For the first time Mercedes-Benz Cars gives a deeper insight in the "Factory 56". The German Premium carmaker explains the concept and the basic operating principles of one of the most state-of-the-art automobile production halls in the world. "In 'Factory 56', we are consistently implementing innovative technologies and processes across the board according to the key terms 'digital, flexible, green'. We create a modern workspace with more attention to individual requirements of our employees. All in all, in 'Factory 56' we are significantly increasing flexibility and efficiency in comparison to our current vehicle assembly halls - and of course without sacrificing our top quality. In this way we are setting a new benchmark in the global automotive industry", says Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain.
New, flexible infrastructure with powerful WiFi and mobile network
In the "Factory 56", the traditional assembly line is replaced by driverless transport systems in selected production areas - the so-called "TecLines" - for example at the beginning of the trim line. By merely redefining the tracks for the driverless transport systems, it will be possible to change from assembly operation to cycle operation, whereby the vehicle remains in position and is not continuously moved along the line. This makes sense for automated activities, among others, for example when installing the sliding glass roof. In addition, by using the driverless transport systems, individual assembly units can be expanded without interfering in the building's structure. "By combining an assembly line with 'TecLines', on the one hand we have high-efficiency assembly for large-scale production at our disposal, while on the other hand we gain flexibility so that we can adjust our production without any great effort or interruptions to current operation", Schäfer explains.
In doing so, machines and systems are networked with one another. Selected assembly facilities and materials handling technology are Internet of Things-ready. A high-performance and efficient wireless network and mobile network form the basis for this. The use of a powerful 5G-mobile phone technology is to be tested for the first time in assembly in a pilot application. The assembly hall is completely paperless. Employees work with monitors and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Shopping carts are being used across the board in "Factory 56" to supply the assembly stations. These are equipped with the required materials for assembly in a so-called pick zone using intelligent picking systems. In total 300 driverless transport systems are in use. "Resulting data can be collected and evaluated using big data technology. The findings flow directly back into production. In this way, we can improve existing processes and can avoid plant malfunctions with predictive maintenance. We thus increase our business operating times and improve quality", Schäfer emphasises.
360-degree networking – from the supplier to the customer
However, networking not only happens inside the factory. A significant feature of "Factory 56" is the all-round networking across the entire value-added chain – from development and design to suppliers, production and customers. In coordination with our suppliers, we use the benefits of tracking and tracing, for example, which allows load carriers to be traced digitally around the world. Tracking and tracing enables early detection of discrepancies in the supply chain and thus a quicker reaction time.
We are already connected with our customers today: Under "Digital Anticipation" in the Mercedes me app, customers purchasing new vehicles can gain exclusive insights into the production of their vehicles. For research and development as well as production, 360-degree networking means quick and transparent communication across all units. Digital tools are used for development and production, for example, production processes are visualised and optimized by "Virtual Reality" (VR) before a real production hall comes into existence. For example, the workstations and processes can be virtually tested and designed ergonomically.
Work of the future – focus on people
"Despite state-of-the-art technology and innovative Industry 4.0, in 'Factory 56' the focus is as always on people. Our employees' expertise, flexibility and high level of motivation are the key to our success, and that applies to periods of transformation and digitalisation. This is, why we are cutting back on the level of automation in 'Factory 56' and creating the framework conditions to ensure that working in production continues to be fun", Schäfer clarifies. To sustainably shape the production of the future, an innovative working organization and new working time models will be developed along with the works council. The aim is to reconcile the company's requirements with the employees' requirements via sustainable and practical solutions: While the company wants to increase flexibility, capacity and extend the operating hours, employees are often concerned with gaining more freedom for personal matters with flexible working times and places that can be arranged at short notice. In this context, a model for flexible teams, the so-called Pool of Shift Employees, is currently being tested. This means that an employee's wishes regarding his/her shift plan depending on his/her personal situation can be better taken into consideration, thus promoting a balance between family and professional life. It is conceivable that one-day employees will be able to choose their working hours via an app.
"Green production" – CO2-neutral electricity supply
All German Mercedes-Benz Cars plants will have a CO2-neutral energy supply by 2022. New plants worldwide are already planned with this premise. "Factory 56" will already have a CO2-neutral energy supply upon commissioning. There is a photovoltaic system (PV system) on the factory's roof, which feeds self-generated green electricity into the hall's supply. In addition, there are a number of measures for reducing energy consumption. Approximately 40 percent of the roof's surface will be extensively planted. Apart from offsetting impervious surfaces and aiding rainwater retention, this also translates into an improved interior climate in the hall. The hall is particularly translucent. The Blue-Sky architecture supports a pleasant working climate for the employees using daylight.
"'Factory 56' in Sindelfingen is the blueprint for all our future vehicle assembly halls around the world – this applies both to our existing plants as well as new locations", Schäfer states of future prospects.
KeyFacts about the "Factory 56"
Right from the start, Mercedes-Benz manager Ulrike Graze is responsible for "Factory 56" at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen, about 20 Kilometres away from the Daimler headquarter in Stuttgart, Germany. Additionally Mrs. Graze is in charge of the S-Class assembly in Sindelfingen. The area of "Factory 56" measures 220,000 m2. This equates to about 30 soccer fields. While the cornerstone ceremony for the new assembly hall took place on February 20, 2018, the start of production is scheduled at the beginning of the next decade. Upper and Luxury class cars with combustion engines, hybrid drives and purely electric-battery drives as well as self-driving cars will be produced there. This includes, among others, the new generation of the S-Class as well as the first electric vehicle from the EQ product and technology brand "made in Sindelfingen".