Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Daimler: Sprinter van plant is a “benchmark”

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van plant in Ludwigsfelde is a benchmark for the industry, according to the company today.
“It is what future plants should look like: streamlined, sophisticated processes; pinpoint, highly efficient logistics; and faultless assembly," declared plant manager Sebastian Streuff.

On claiming “faultless assembly” Streuff is certainly setting the bar high for the likes of Vauxhall with its more modest van plant in Luton Bedfordshire, UK.

Ludwigsfelde builds over 200 vans a day and it is likely that technology developed at the plant will be used in the Sprinter van plant in North America. In March this year, Daimler announced plans for a $500 million facility in Charleston, South Carolina to build Sprinter vabs. The Ludwigsfelde plant could be a model for this new US production site.

The Ludwigsfelde facility is dominated by driverless transport trucks (automated guided vehicles or AGVs) which autonomously supply assembly personnel on the line with prepared goods baskets from the logistics and picking areas fully autonomously. It is these which help to create intelligent production.

The Sprinter assembly hall, situated south of Berlin, is unexpectedly quiet for a place that builds more than 200 large vans a day.

Whereas previously there were countless wire baskets, shelves and carriers full of material stockpiled around the assembly lines which line workers had to pick – and select the correct parts for each van, now the AGVs dominate the scene

Streuff has been manager of Mercedes-Benz Werk Ludwigsfelde GmbH only since 1 June 2015.

"In the last two-and-a-half years, the Ludwigsfelde plant has taken its future into its own hands with its highly qualified and highly motivated workforce,” he said. “Today it is a shining example of the use of innovative production systems in the Mercedes-Benz Vans worldwide production network. It's an impressive development, I am therefore all the more pleased to be shaping the future together with the team here in Ludwigsfelde."

With around 2,000 employees, the Mercedes-Benz Ludwigsfelde plant is one of the largest industrial employers in Brandenburg, and Daimler's third largest van assembly plant worldwide.

Ludwigsfelde is also the only European production site at which the open model variants of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter "world van" (pickups and chassis cabs) are produced for a wide range of vehicle bodies.

In 2014, the plant had a successful year and increased its output by 13 per cent to over 48,200 units. And this positive trend is continuing in 2015, with capacity utilization remaining at a very high level.

On this basis, Ludwigsfelde plant could build 54,805 vans in 2015. The number of hours per van (hpv) ranges from 73 hours to 61 hours depending on the number of hours and weeks worked in a full year.

The higher figure of 72hpv is associated with a 40-hour working week and 50 weeks worked in a full year. The lower figure of 61hpv is derived from a 35-hour working week of 48 weeks in a full year.

Of course, these figures take no account of the hours required per engine, transmission, rear axle and other large components made outside the Ludwigsfelde plant by Mercedes and its vendors.

Since 1991 over 600,000 vehicles have left the Ludwigsfelde plant assembly plant, which covers a total area of 540,000 square meters and has a production area of 182,000 square meters.

This total goes up by over 200 vans per day in a two-shift operation – with the vehicles being exported to around 130 countries. The plant therefore plays a key role in the Mercedes-Benz Vans global production network.

Since the end of 2012, the Ludwigsfelde plant has taken major strides in raising efficiency throughout the entire area of vehicle assembly.

One main objective was to bring about a clear improvement in the interface and collaboration between assembly and logistics.

                                        Method study

Experts from assembly, logistics and production planning departments examined the complete process from supplier to the point of part fitment on the line.

They also worked on establishing high-quality, robust and, above all, streamlined processes between assembly and logistics.

One example is door pre-assembly. Whereas previously there were carriers practically nose to tail all the way along the line, and the employees had to locate, fetch and install the parts themselves, today there are just a few tool carts and data terminals.

Everything else an assembler needs to fit a side door is today presented to the correct vehicle on the line just in sequence and just in time by a driverless transport truck in what is known as "car-sets".

Here complexity between assembly and logistics is high. On the production line the employees assemble the Sprinter in over 350 different combinations, depending on wheelbase, weight, powertrain or colour.

Consequently there is a different sequence for each vehicle, and respectively each Sprinter needs to have different components fitted.

Thanks to IT networking, exactly the right parts for each Sprinter are prepared in a car-set cart and delivered to the assembly line. The AGV transport truck even takes care of unloading fully automatically.

After arrival, car-sets are positioned directly to the line. The line worker takes the correct parts truck, attaches it to the pendant and begins installing the parts. There are clear advantages: greatly improved workstation ergonomics, shorter walking distances, direct access to the material, more space on the line and a reduced accident risk thanks to the absence of forklifts.

Michael Bauer, plant manager of Ludwigsfelde up until the end of May and now responsible for worldwide assembly planning at Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars, states: "We recognized the necessity of a very flexible factory at an early stage, continuously optimized production processes and, in doing so, ensured close coordination between management, works council and our employees. Only in this way it was possible to take such huge strides forward in terms of efficiency, quality and added value here at the site in such a short time. That is our recipe for success here in Ludwigsfelde."

Daimler says that the Sprinter plant in Ludwigsfelde with its AGVs, computer-assisted picking and ergonomic workstations “impressively highlights what a sophisticated, highly efficient and worker-friendly production facility can look like today.”

This is also highlighted by a comparison of key parameters since the start of Daimler’s "Assembly and logistics interface optimization" lighthouse project at the end of 2012:

Far less space is now taken up by material on the assembly line.

Workstations on the assembly line are more ergonomic, there are far fewer forklifts, and noise levels are noticeably lower

AGVs are successfully established at the assembly plant and have become an integral part of the production process

Fully autonomous material supply in assembly subsections

Production time is shorter with the result that capacity utilization on the assembly line is correspondingly higher

Quality level in production has “achieved an all-time high”

The high level of investment in Ludwigsfelde demonstrates that continuous further development of the site has paid dividends, notes Mercedes.

Last October, Mercedes-Benz Vans defined its long-term strategy for the production of Sprinter’s successor model. Mercedes-Benz Vans will also produce the next generation of the large van in Germany. Thus Mercedes-Benz Vans will be investing €150 million in Ludwigsfelde alone to modernize the body shop, paint shop and assembly line.

Newly-appointed Streuff declares: "The planned substantial investment emphasizes the importance of the Ludwigsfelde plant. It's a good sign for the workforce and the entire Berlin-Brandenburg region."

The Ludwigsfelde plant (Industriewerke Ludwgsfelde) has a long history. Established by Daimler-Benz AG in 1936 to make DB 600 aero engines for new Luftwaffe bomber and fighter aircraft, it later became World War 2 of IFA (Industrieverband Fahzreugbau or Automotive Industry Association) which among other items made scooters (the Troll being the most famous). In 1963, construction of a new truck plant began at Ludwigsfelde; it became the largest truck production complex in the DDR. The first W50 five-tonne truck rolled of the line on 17 July 1965 - just 50 years ago next month. That same year, production of Trolls finished! However, the W50 was dogged by serious quality problems to the point that in August 1969 the plant to stop production to address the issues. The W50 appeared with a new cab, chassis and engine to allow production to peak at 32,516 in 1986. But memories of the original W 50 live on. This is why the latest comments by the new plant manager of Ludwigsfelde about "faultless assembly" of Sprinters have more than a poignant and ironic ring to them.


Alan Bunting said...

Clearly the extensive use of automation, eg AGVs and robots, at the Ludvigsfelde plant enables Mercedes to hold down the labour cost per van (even in Germany's high-wage economy)to an extent that allows the Sprinter to be price competitive with rivals, notably Ford's Transit, now produced more labour-intensively in low-wage Turkey.

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