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07/04/2016 | Daimler: Industry 4.0

The automotive industry is facing fundamental changes. Digitalization is the main force driving this transformation. The connection of the physical and digital worlds is frequently described with the buzz word "Industrie 4.0" or as the fourth industrial revolution. But what exactly is meant by this? How does Daimler understand this process?

We at Mercedes-Benz use the term 'Industrie 4.0' to describe the digitalization of the entire value chain, starting from design and development through production, where the concept originates, to sales and service", explains Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, at Daimler AG. "For us at Daimler there is no question that the digital transformation will fundamentally change our industry. This applies to the methods by which we develop, plan and produce our vehicles. It applies to the way we make contact with our customers. And, not least, it can be experienced through our products themselves."

When man, machine and industrial processes connect together intelligently, individual products can be created in high quality more rapidly. Production costs and cost of goods manufactured can be structured competitively.

A Robot is a Man's Best Friend

As part of a trial, people and robots therefore are working together without a protective barrier in Bremen. In the assembly of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, a robot is handling the physically demanding work for the workers. The person keeps an eye on the robot's movements.

The power battery package, which disappears with apparent ease into the opened rear end of the C-Class where it is installed with exact precision with the help of a robot, weighs more than 110 kg. The robot obeys at the push of a button, and helps the employees to install the hybrid battery for the C 350 e.

This significantly alleviates the burden on employees at this assembly station in comparison to the manual process. Without robots, they would otherwise have to collect the hybrid battery from the load carrier using a specially constructed handling device, accelerate and brake the entire package themselves, rotate it 90° and then install it into the opened rear end with a great deal of skill and their own strength.

It's a tight fit, with not even a thumb's-width of space on the left and right-hand sides. The battery still has to be adjusted at times so that it can be screwed to the body. Everything is still OK with the weight of current batteries - but the batteries of the future will be heavier and sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to rise sharply. This will also lead to an increase in production volumes, and the frequency per shift and day will rise until people alone are no longer able to cope.

This realization was the starting point for Maik Kube from the assembly planning function in Bremen. Together with Process Development, he developed and tested new ways of installing the hybrid battery. Human-robot collaboration (HRC) is now integrated into the ongoing production in Bremen as an operating trial.

The operating trial is running for a limited time to start with. Local employees are helping to improve the HRC system through their feedback and experiences. The initial planning for the installation of future battery types is even already running in parallel. Intensive investigations are already being conducted into the necessary assembly systems during the batteries' development stage. The goal: "We want to develop a standardized, scalable and entirely flexible assembly system across all battery and vehicle variants," said Peter Graupner, Team Manager at the TECFabrik for the Design & Simulation of production innovations. 

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Econsense

Forum for Sustainable Development of German Business e.V.

econsense is an association of leading, globally active companies and organisations of German business specializing in the area of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Founded in 2000 on the initiative of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the goal of econsense is to provide a dialogue platform and think tank, with the dual objectives of advancing sustainable development in business and assuming social responsibility.