2018 marks the start of production of the electric-drive Audi SUV at the Brussels plant. Planning work is progressing at full speed. Electric motors instead of internal combustion engines, batteries instead of fuel tanks –what will the production process look like?
The four-part building houses battery system assembly as well as other functions.
Being the best doesn’t always mean being the first.
But it certainly always means giving your best. 2018 will see Audi commence production in Brussels of its first all-electric-drive SUV. Bertram Günter, Project Manager Production, explains: “We’re taking on a completely new job here. We’re developing the Brussels plant into a competence center for electric mobility within the Audi Group.”
The vital statistics of the sporty electric SUV based on the Audi e-tron quattro concept study presented at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show make impressive reading – a range of more than 500 kilometers, powerful electric motors at the front and rear axles, rapid DC charging. The C-BEV, as it is also known internally – C standing for the vehicle class, BEV for battery-electric vehicle – is based on a new platform developed specifically for all-electric drive.
And how do you plan the production of a car that has no internal combustion engine, no fuel tank and no exhaust system, but instead, a battery pan the size of a double bed between the axles? The Brussels plant is actually well suited to the new SUV, as Günter explains: “We plan to retain the same number of workers currently building the A1 in two shifts. Because the larger SUV has more production content than the smaller Audi A1, the workforce will still be running at full capacity. And the layout of the halls is also very convenient. Battery assembly will take place in one hall that’s currently used for logistics. The main contractor there is Audi Toolmaking, which is preparing all the equipment.” Dr. Christian Allmann, a battery specialist in Günter’s team explains: “One of the new aspects of the electric SUV is the full integration of the battery into the load-bearing structure of the vehicle floorpan. This means an extremely high degree of safety in the design, and a level of precision in battery assembly with which we’re setting new benchmarks.” His colleague Markus Flucke continues: “We had to develop a whole series of new production technologies, all the way to automatic setting of the cell module into its mounts.”
“The Brussels plant is where we want to build our first electric car. It’s the first of its kind and is without question playing a pilot role for the whole Group.”
Virtual flyover –
Jan Maris, Head of Production at the Brussels plant, Audi Board Member for Production and Logistics Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl and Bertram Günter, Project Manager Production C-BEV, use the Powerwall to take an overview of the plant in the Belgian capital.
A completely new job
“We’re taking on a completely new job here. We’re developing the Brussels plant into a competence center for electric mobility within the Audi Group.”
The Audi e-tron quattro concept in detail
The battery casing is made in a dedicated production facility, with the subsequent assembly being largely automated. Once the contacts have been established, direct human interaction is out of the question – it has 400 volts running through it. All employees at the plant receive training in working with high-voltage technology – from the base level of “sensitization” to the top level of “responsible electrical specialist”.
The battery system is then transported to the so-called chassis pre-assembly area, which is on the ground floor of the assembly hall. The first major component to be positioned on the workpiece carrier is the front axle, which is already connected with the front motor, transmission and power electronics. Locating pins ensure the assembly is positioned with millimeter accuracy. The next step is to lay the high-voltage cables and the connectors for the coolant lines, followed finally by assembly of the rear axle, complete with the other motors.
When the technology and drive unit is finished, it travels to the hall’s upper level for the marriage in line section three, which runs fully automatically. As final assembly continues, the electric-drive SUV receives its charging unit and connectors, and data is uploaded to the control units and learnt. On the driving-in test rig, the car is subjected to an extensive program that mimics all the main driving situations it will face in subsequent operation – from battery charging to coasting to full load at high speed. Finally, it heads out onto the factory’s track for a “road test”.
Before production of the new SUV ramps up in Brussels – parallel to the run-down of the Audi A1, the successor to which will be built in Martorell, Spain – static reinforcement is required to the upper level, along with step-by-step restructuring of the assembly line. The old line is giving way to a combination of an electrically driven suspended track and height-adjustable push-skids, split into a little more than 150 workstations. “Historically, the workforce in Brussels has a lot of experience with new starts,” says Project Manager Bertram Günter. “The new SUV is a huge opportunity for the plant. The aim is to set new standards.”
Challenge and opportunity
“The new SUV is a huge opportunity for the plant to raise its profile even further. We want to set new standards.”
“The whole project is a huge challenge for the Audi team due to the use of completely new technology, paired with a highly ambitious timing plan. We will also learn all sorts of new things and garner wide-ranging experience in using new materials that we’ve never worked with before. However, I have absolutely no doubt that our team is up to the job.”