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Inside Audi’s smart manufacturing strategy

A Q&A with Werner Hamberger of Audi AG Steering Digital Production

Industrial leaders are implementing smart manufacturing strategies with the primary goal of improving operational efficiency and gain more value from business. One of the companies that has embraced digital transformation is German carmaker Audi. Enterprise IoT Insights discussed the firm’s digital transformation strategy with Werner Hamberger, an expert with Audi AG Steering Digital Production.

Q: Digital transformation is a bit of a buzzword; how has the company approached that process?

A: Digitalization is one of the key elements of the Audi Vorsprung Strategy. It has several aspects for us: on the one hand it influences our products, we are integrating more and more customer solutions to provide a platform for integrated, connected premium mobility and digital services, which translates into more personal freedom for our customers.

On the other hand, same principle applies to Audi itself: we digitalize our internal processes, to improve efficiency and create more opportunities for innovation within the company.

We approach digital transformation as a comprehensive concept combining technological opportunities with the capabilities and skills of our employees.

In manufacturing, new technologies bring enormous potential for process optimization and automation, but we look beyond just that, focusing on empowering our employees.

Q: Specific to manufacturing operations, how has connectivity and IoT changed the way Audi runs its business?

A: Manufacturing processes in the modern automotive industry are very complex. Data is invaluable, since it helps to analyze complex correlations and achieve global optima through optimization.

Data is the basis of all kinds of complex analytics and Artificial Intelligence. Such technologies as IoT and connectivity help to create a seamless data space and boost the data quality and improve the basis for analysis.

These technologies help to sustainably improve processes and achieve competitive advantage in manufacturing.

Q: What were some of the problems the company needed to solve?

A: As any company with a long history, the integration of new technologies into the running processes may pose a challenge. Especially in manufacturing where the processes have to be robust.

The equipment that contributes enormously to the robustness of these processes has to be retro fitted in order to meet the needs of digitalization.

We use our newer plants like San José Chiapa (Mexico) alongside pilot projects to test new technologies in order to ensure reliable integration of things like IoT or AI into our everyday processes.

Q: Can you take me through the technologies used by Audi to solve those problems?

A: One of the main focus of Audi is to create workable solutions that solve real problems, as well as to gain know-how in strategically important areas.

Quality control is one of the areas where we use modern technologies extensively. Where previously just a manual surface check allowed the desired premium quality to be verified, today photometric cell robots with extremely precise optical sensors can now carry out the required steps. The resulting data records can then be compared with other components at the simple press of a button.

Modern technologies such as IoT, sensors, Data Analytics, help to implement such revolutionary concepts as modular assembly. The concept enables efficient manufacturing of highly individualized products.

Q: Separate from the technology, were there any implications to your workforce related to digital transformation?

A: Audi will never have a deserted, fully automated factory without workers. Our employees will always remain in the forefront. We don’t try to replace them with technology, we try to assist them, and create room for improvement and to develop our employees to the new levels of expertise.

The aim is to delegate monotonous and physically challenging tasks to the robots. The employees then can concentrate on value adding tasks. This is more efficient for the company, and more satisfying for the employees.

Creativity and expertise of our employees are the key drivers for the development of Audi. Their acceptance of new technologies is essential to achieve sustainable implementation of modern solutions.

Qualification of the employees plays a key part; education, development of the relevant skill sets is very important for us.

Q: What are some of the key lessons the company learned from the process?

A: The key point is that digital transformation doesn’t stop at technology. Ultimately what the company needs is an integrated and integrative concept, which addresses all the stakeholder groups and only works in seamless process chains.

Digitalization has implications for the corporate culture which are easy to underestimate. The way we work with each other in inter-divisional and cross-functional teams, the way we suddenly have access to the wealth of knowledge and diversity of opinions, the transparency that digitalization brings into our daily work – these are the biggest changes to corporate culture that enable us to leverage the opportunities of digitalization.

Q: What, if any, problems did you encounter through the implementation?

A: Dealing with such a big change, you always encounter certain challenges, but they are there to learn from and do better next time.

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