The networkers


Bodyshells and robots that communicate with one another

Networked machines that organize themselves. What sounds like science fiction will soon be reality in the Smart Factory. Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG responsible for Production, and Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer Society, talk about the intelligent factory of the future.

Networked robots and parts. Machines that organize and optimize themselves. People who work with the best possible support. Cycles that make best use of materials and resources – that’s the Smart Factory.

"Car making as we know it today won’t exist anymore. Faster, more efficient, more sustainable – that’s the production of the future."

-Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl

RFID chips, augmented reality and virtual manufacturing have long been part of Audi Production. Is Industry 4.0 really that revolutionary?

Dr. Waltl:

Eight years ago, Audi toolmakers from Ingolstadt carried out maintenance on equipment in China for the first time – from here in their office in Germany. Even then, Audi was using data connections via the internet for remote maintenance. Therefore, for me, Industry 4.0 is not revolutionary. The networking of the complete production system is more akin to evolution.

Dr. Neugebauer:

I see it differently. Evolution does the groundwork for revolution, even if the technologies associated with Industry 4.0 establish themselves in a more evolutionary way. The true effects and opportunities are not yet foreseeable. Their potential is far from being exhausted. The revolution is still ahead of us.

Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer

Whether it’s an evolution or revolution, what will the Smart Factory of the future look like?

Dr. Waltl:

Car making as we currently know it won’t exist anymore. The Taylorist system, production line rhythm – all of it will be history. Perhaps there won’t even be a production line anymore. We need more flexible assembly processes.

Dr. Neugebauer:

That’s the big difference to Industry 3.0. Stability was required to make automation work. Today, product life cycles are shorter. The start of new products must be realized in less and less time. Automakers have broader model lineups – that calls for flexibility.

That sounds like a factory without people.

Dr. Neugebauer:

No, quite the opposite, in fact. People are still important wherever creativity is required. Where algorithms are unable to address the problem and only creative thinking can come up with a solution. It’s not about replacing people, but about providing them with the best possible support from machines.

The industrial revolutions of Audi

Intelligent tools, machines that organize themselves – what does that bring to the company?

Dr. Neugebauer:

Germany scores highly for the flexibility and innovative power of its companies. We have to push that further. If companies producing in Germany want to remain competitive, they will have to use the productivity, flexibility and cost benefits of Industry 4.0.

And how does Audi benefit from Industry 4.0?

Dr. Waltl:

The production of the future will be faster, more efficient and more sustainable. And real-time data will form an important foundation for it. If data is captured from development, through sales, logistics and production all the way to delivery, we can adapt processes better to one another. Cooperation across international facilities would also be even easier.

What effect will Industry 4.0 have on the automobile as a product?

Dr. Neugebauer:

One-unit production runs will be far more frequent. When the customer configures his car today, he has countless options. But, in future, cars won’t be differentiated by their color or their steering wheel. They’ll stand out for their personalized features, such as a seat adapted perfectly to the size of the customer. The car as a bespoke item – that’s the future.

But things aren’t that far yet. What has to happen to make the shift from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0?

Dr. Waltl:

We have to think today about the qualifications our employees are going to need in future. We have to prepare them for new jobs through further training, especially in the area of IT. I’m confident that we’ll be able to move forward a great deal here in the years ahead. We have a highly motivated team at Audi – people with lots of good ideas. You’ll be surprised by what Audi Production will look like a few decades from now.

A car like a made-to-measure suit. Thanks to 3D printing, this could soon become reality. Audi is already working with 3D printers.They produce parts in plastic and even in steel.