ICD study trip: "A hundred people keep 1,700 robots at work"

News | June 7, 2018

The 31 technicians, including two women, hardly have time for that, because without a camera they are already eyes short to see how two variants of the Passat and the new top model Arteon from Volkswagen are screwed together.

Remarkably, it is busy with people lining the assembly line. Once the bodywork comes on the line, mechanics know exactly what to do for each model. In teams of 10 people, they perform their actions in about 62 seconds on what is ultimately a brand new car. Models crammed with options alternate with the somewhat bare models. ,,Otherwise we won't reach our tact time'', the tour guide explains. ,,We know exactly how much time we need per model to dress the car. To keep the line well balanced, richly equipped models are alternated with simpler versions.

Convenience store

Heavy parts are mounted using robotic arms, including a panoramic roof. Nowhere along the line do employees have to lift or bend heavily. Everything is aimed at making it possible to work at a leisurely pace with ordinary actions. The only part that is placed in the cars fully automatically is the dashboard, or the 'cockpit' as the Germans call it. Elsewhere in the factory it is assembled manually and here on the line a robotic arm with sensors places the part with full accuracy. Impressive. At the 'supermarket', a kind of large parts warehouse, the tour guide tells us that all the cars we see here have been paid for and that it takes 6 to 8 weeks to deliver a car after ordering. "With a complicated process of ordering parts, we ensure that everything is on the production line at the right time."

The chassis, engine with exhausts and wheels are mounted on another production line. With the hybrid models it is easy to see where the battery pack is. When the body is completely dressed, a robot lift takes it to the first floor. Over the heads of employees and visitors, the carriages slowly glide past, until they meet their chassis and are placed on top of it.

Robot colleague

The tour guide explains that further down the site is a 500 square meter hall with no fewer than 1,700 robots. "100 people work here to keep the robots working." Strangely enough, he invariably calls the robots 'robot colleague'. In total, 9 thousand people find work at Volkswagen in Emden. They deliver 1,200 cars per day in two shifts. The engineer does not want to say how many of these require post-processing due to manufacturing errors or not meeting the quality requirements. "Our cars only leave the factory when they fully meet our quality requirements."