“Our customers will be able to digitally track their car as it is made”
During the Group conference “Digital Factory” more than 500 experts from the Volkswagen Group have explored the future world of manufacturing. In the following interview, Martin Goede, the Head of Technology Planning and Development for the Volkswagen brand, discusses the ways that e-mobility and digitalization are transforming factories – and the ways that customers can profit from this change.
Let’s travel back in time for a minute: What is the difference between a factory in 2018 and a factory in 2008?
In the past, the primary goal was optimization. We automated processes, improved the availability of facilities and boosted productivity. One good example of this approach is the system to manufacture the Golf on the basis of the Modular Transverse Toolkit. But many of these improvements are not visible. A layperson would hardly notice them. But things will be different in the future because factories are about to undergo dramatic changes.
There are two important reasons for this. The first: The fundamental architecture of our products is changing. You see it in areas like the I.D. family, which is built on the basis of the Modular Electric Drive Matrix. In addition, vehicle electronics will become significantly more complex as a result of new assistant systems, new safety systems, autonomous driving functions and infotainment. We will include certain functions in vehicles. But we will activate them only on demand, that is, if the customer wants to use them. The second key reason for the change: Production itself is becoming increasingly digital.
What will a factory in 2028 look like?
Heavily automated and highly networked. One visible sign will be the growing number of robots that will work with humans without any protective fencing and will assist them. Smart tools like smart glasses, smart gloves and smart watches will become normal parts of the workforce. Components made by 3D printers will be delivered directly to the production line. We will also visualize more and more processes on monitors so that employees can see at a glance whether the production operation is running smoothly.
What will the change mean for employees?
They will definitely remain in charge. Machines and automated processes will boost efficiency and simplify people’s lives. Many robots will take over the physically demanding jobs. This change will be particularly important because the average age of the workforce is increasing. What employees need is the willingness to use the new technical solutions.
Just how will electromobility change factories?
By 2025, the brands of the Volkswagen Group will have introduced 80 new electric models as part of Roadmap E. This will be a tremendous opportunity as well as a huge job for production. We will set up new supply chains. Our work with high voltage batteries will also create new requirements. At the same time, our production lines will shorten because the drive train for electric vehicles is much less complicated than the one used in the internal combustion engine. Let’s take the Golf as an example: We have nearly 200 cycles in the production line today. We will have significantly fewer for the new e-models.
How will the customer benefit from this manufacturing transformation?
Digitalization has many benefits. We can use our data to improve our ability to anticipate the type of cars that our customers will order. We will be better prepared as a result and can significantly lower our production times. Our long-range goal: A new car should be ready one week after it was ordered. One other benefit is increased transparency: Our customers will be able to digitally track their car as it is made. And they will also be able to change the configuration of the vehicle between order and production.
Can you give us an example?
They will be able to change the color after placing the order. Let’s say that I ordered a red car today. After I slept on the order for a night, I realized that I really liked blue better. And I can simply change it. You can’t do things like that today.