Development is progressing at tremendous pace: after the first stage, with the sites in Chemnitz, Wolfsburg (both Germany) and Polkowice (Poland) in 2019, 15 additional European factories from Palmela (Portugal) to Mlada Boleslav (Czech Republic) joined the Industrial Cloud in 2020. And the first North-American plants were added. The team in charge, from production and IT, is aiming to add 24 additional sites to the platform in 2021 – including in South America. This would see all of the Group’s major car and component plants connected. Expansion is continuing rapidly even during the coronavirus pandemic – by digital means.
Partnership with AWS and Siemens
The corporation drives the cloud in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Volkswagen contributes its extensive knowledge of industrial processes and excellent production, and AWS the expertise in machine learning and cloud computing services. Integration partner Siemens ensures the efficient integration of production systems, machines and installations of various manufacturers in the global plants. The basis of the Industrial Cloud is Volkswagen’s Digital Production Platform (DPP), onto which all of the Group’s sites will dock in the future. The platform standardises and simplifies the exchange of data across systems and plants.
The highest standards ensure data security: for example, integration via the cloud makes it easier to identify the use of unfamiliar software and to react quickly. What’s more, Volkswagen also saves all information processed in the Industrial Cloud in a kind of digital safe deposit box. Volkswagen therefore has complete control over who the data is exchanged with, and for what purpose.
Industrial Cloud to become an app store
By 2025, Volkswagen wants to increase the productivity of its plants by 30 percent compared to 2016. “We will continue to strengthen production as a competitive factor for the Volkswagen Group,” said Oliver Blume, CEO of Porsche and Member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG with responsibility for production. The Industrial Cloud is a crucial lever for achieving this goal. Data from all factories is to be amalgamated and made usable in real time. Volkswagen is thereby laying the foundations for more efficient processes. In the final stage of expansion, the corporation expects to reduce costs by several billion euros.
The benefits are to come from new software solutions, which, for example, facilitate even more efficient control of material flow, optimised operation of machines and installations, and reduced energy consumption. The Group has already defined 30 applications that are now available to all plants step by step. Some of the focus areas include preventive maintenance and reduction of reworking through artificial intelligence (AI). The exchange follows the app store principle: every site can use the Industrial Cloud to source the software applications that are useful on site. The plants can also use standardised tools to develop site-specific solutions themselves and then make them available to other plants via the Industrial Cloud.
Examples of where the Industrial Cloud helps:
Emden plant: Permanent quality control during welding
At the Emden Volkswagen plant, the evaluation of welding data will be used for even better quality control in the future. The challenge: until now, the weld spots on the car bodies have been checked manually using ultrasound. But this takes so much time that the employees tasked with this can only take random samples. “In the future, the welding robots will collect the required data on current flow and voltage automatically. An algorithm checks that the values meet the standards,” said project manager Mathias Boomgaarden. The benefit being that defects will be identified. Members of the present inspection team will monitor the data on the dashboard in future, and perform manual checks in the event of any conspicuous weld spots.
The improved quality control during welding is an example of the benefits of collaboration in the Group. “There is already a similar system in place at Audi. We learned a lot from it,” said Boomgaarden. The AI solution was modified for the Emden plant, and the first installations were connected in a pilot phase. “The results are good. Regular operation is ready to start when the final challenges have been mastered,” said Boomgaarden.
Hannover plant: Early warning system in camper van construction
At Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge (VWN) in Hannover, an Industrial Cloud app amalgamates data from ongoing production clearly and transparently in one system. This enables users to get a real-time overview of whether potential bottlenecks could occur in production, at just a click of the mouse. “The aim is to set up an early warning system in production, to eliminate costly disruptions in the factory,” said Jörg Heptner, the man in charge of implementing the whole data platform at VWN in Hannover. Basically, in each factory there are buffers as transitions between the production facilities and at the transitions between the various stages of production. “The buffers give the stages some room to breathe and mean they are not rigidly linked to each other. If a buffer is empty, production comes to a halt. If it is too full, there is a bottleneck,” said Heptner.
In a pilot project in the production of the T6.1, the standardised evaluation of data already makes vacancies in the buffer sections transparent – a good indicator of potential disruptions in production. “Identifying the buffers with the longest vacancies enables vulnerabilities to be detected and systematically eliminated,” said Hartmut Lüdtke, who is leading the project for the production strategy area.
The basic idea for the early warning system originates from the Volkswagen brand’s planning. Therefore, the pilot project was implemented in collaboration with production strategy experts and the Group IT department in Wolfsburg. The team is currently working on creating a scalable solution that can be transferred to other plants with minimal effort. This is due to take place at several sites this year.
Leipzig plant: Artificial intelligence as a linguistic genius
At Porsche in Saxony, artificial intelligence is proving to be an important aid in monitoring labels in different languages quickly and accurately. The challenge: multiple labels with vehicle information or tips for airbags are affixed to every vehicle manufactured. Many of these stickers contain country-specific information and are written in the customer’s language. At the Porsche plant in Leipzig, an app uses photos to compare the content of the labels in real time and provides feedback on whether everything is ok. This saves several minutes per vehicle.
The basis is the image recognition technique Industrial Computer Vision. The principle: humans train artificial intelligence to evaluate optical data and detect errors – extremely reliably and in no time at all. The trial phase in Leipzig and at Porsche’s Zuffenhausen plant was successful, meaning that the solution will now be rolled out via the Industrial Cloud and made available to many sites.
However, the Industrial Cloud is not restricted to the Volkswagen Group’s sites; it goes far beyond that in perspective: in 2020, the corporation opened the cloud up to partners from engineering and technology, who provide their own software solutions. For example, one of these corporations developed an algorithm that uses AI to optimise the use of driverless transportation systems. The application of another corporation enables the simulation of the maintenance intervals of machines. As the number of partners grows, so does the range of solutions, to which the sites have access.
In the long term, Volkswagen is aiming for an open marketplace for industrial applications. “On that kind of platform, everyone involved would be able to swap, acquire and use each other’s applications. It would be a place open to all companies in principle – from suppliers, through technology partners, to other car manufacturers,” said Nihar Patel, Executive Vice President New Business Development in der Volkswagen AG.