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Lean Production: Wolfsburg becomes leaner and fitter

The Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg is moving full speed ahead in productivity and efficiency. Volkswagen has won the Automotive Lean Production Award in recognition of its production strategy.

Up to 3,500 cars a day, more than 62,000 workers and an area the size of Gibraltar – everything must run like clockwork to keep production running smoothly at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg. Carefully coordinated processes have been designed down to the very smallest detail and keep production moving smoothly 24 hours a day. Productivity and efficiency play a key role in this operation. 

Volkswagen plans to become leaner and fitter in the future – it’s an idea called “lean production.” For the advances it has made to produce vehicles more efficiently, the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg has won the Automotive Lean Production Award as best manufacturer for the first time. An independent team evaluated more than 50 stations in Volkswagen’s main plant. During a tour of production, Dr. Stefan Loth, the director of the Wolfsburg plant, talked about the key features of lean production. Together with lifestyle moderator Sarah Elßer, he viewed a few of the best-practice examples on the lean path in Golf production.

Lean means: fast and efficient

The main aim of lean production is to optimize processes and, thus, to increase productivity and efficiency. How? “A company is lean when it acts efficiently and eliminates unnecessary distances and process steps. This saves time, boosts value creation and prevents stressful situations from occurring,” plant director Loth says. A large number of lean examples can be seen on the assembly lines of the lean path. Simple steps are all it takes to “slim down” work processes. This can include optimal handling of materials, tools that are perfectly designed for the particular job site and ergonomic workstations.

Best-practice examples from production

More than 2000 Golf models including all derivatives are produced daily in the production hall in Wolfsburg

During the tour through production, plant director Loth stops at selected stations along the lean path. More than 2,000 Golf models, including all variants, are assembled each day in the production hall. Thousands and thousands of parts are used in the process. Employees continuously replenish materials on the production lines. The process has already been “slimmed down” here. 

A storage site is located between two lines. Material containers in so-called shooter racks are delivered here with the help of logistics trains. Workers place the containers to the left and right of the assembly line. The racks used to all look the same, a practice that occasionally resulted in a mix-up during the sorting process – particularly when speed was required. “We are now doing things much ‘leaner’: We are now using different rack heights and colors – blue for one line and yellow for the other line. They have really simplified the sorting job,” Loth says. The empty material containers are quickly replaced by full ones.

Small input, big output

One other aim of lean production is to make work steps, tools and materials more user friendly. The optimized process of installing a rear-window wiper shows just how a little effort can have a big impact. In the past, employees had to use a positioning device to mount, align and fasten the rear-window wiper. An auxiliary tool affixed to a power screwdriver now is used in the installation process. “The workers now put the rear-window wiper on the combined auxiliary tool, position it on the rear window and then fasten the wiper in one work step,” Loth says. The process is faster and easier. This is what “lean” is all about: high value creation with little waste.

Competitive edge thanks to lean production

For lean production, work steps and equipment should become even more user-friendly

Finally, “lean” serves as a lever for highly efficient volume production and creates a major competitive edge for Volkswagen. In the process, employees do not have to learn new work steps. Ergonomic assembly seats make it easier to work on the vehicle. Numbering systems and positioning guides support the screwing process. Carts that roll along the line are used to carry heavy loads. Stefan Loth says the Wolfsburg workforce has become big boosters of the “lean” process: “Our workers come up with ideas for many ‘lean’ improvements in production. Something that a planner thinks will make sense may not always work so well in the real world.”

Scrutinize processes and offer feedback

In about 400 workshops held this year alone, employees and managers have jointly discussed processes in the production system in search of ways to reduce the manufacturing effort required per vehicle while continuously meeting the highest quality standards. New ideas frequently come directly from employees who analyze their work areas and closely examine existing processes. Plants also exchange improvement ideas as a way of learning from one another. “To become even better, we rely on the feedback of our assembly line workers. We jointly discuss ideas, adapt them when necessary and implement them as quickly as possible,” Loth says.

Plant strategy PQM: productivity, quality and team performance

On the basis of the Pact of the Future, Volkswagen has formulated important goals that are supported by all sides. The main plant in Wolfsburg is setting the pace in the company’s push to boost productivity throughout the Group by 30 percent by 2025. The productivity goals were even exceeded in the first year. With the PQM strategy, the plant in Wolfsburg is focusing on productivity, quality and team performance.

The objective is more and more efficient volume production that will secure the production site and its future. Today, up to 3,500 vehicles roll off the assembly line in a three-shift operation, including Golf, Tiguan and Touran models. The main plant also recently began to produce the model of another Group brand – the SEAT Tarraco. This change represents an important step toward multi-brand production and long-range competitiveness.

Automotive Production Lean Award

The Automotive Lean Production Award is a joint prize presented by the magazine AUTOMOBIL PRODUKTION and the consulting firm Agamus Consult GmbH. Since 2006, independent teams of experts in the initiative have been honoring companies across Europe for lean production processes in the automobile industry. About 80 European plants took part in this year’s competition study, and more than 60 competed for the award. At the beginning of November, Volkswagen received the award as the best manufacturer at this year’s Automotive Lean Production congress in Bremen, Germany.  

You will find more information about the award and the winners 2018 at: Winners 2018