The VW Transparent Factory

Literally across the street from the BSZ Bau und Technik school stands an impressive Volkswagen factory. More a museum and showpiece than a factory, the VW Transparent Factory has a daily production of 72 e-Golf automobiles a day. The care-Golf, or Eagle, is an all-electric version of VW Gulph.

Roundtable members received a fascinating 75-minute tour of the facility from a guide who identified himself only as Helmut.

Noel Schmidt, Susan Enfield, & Joell Hanson visit Volkswagen Transparent Factory

Although not permitted to photograph production within the plant, we were able to take some photo’s outside the plant floor, where we caught a glimpse of automobiles moving along the assembly line at a barely perceptible pace while mechanics and engineers worked on putting the cars together. Imagine a dirty, greasy factory of the past and put it out of your head. The factory of the future is spotless.

Helmut pointed us to a concept one-seater that was never produced.

(We were introduced to SEDRIC, a driverless Uber-like automobile that will arrive on demand and deliver passengers to the destination of their choosing. This “Level 5” automobile (completely driverless) will be in production within the next 10 years, we were told.

The Eagle is produced on an assembly line in which a oval moving floor nearly a mile in circumference accommodates the electrical power-train accompanied by an overhead suspension system that transports the chassis around before “marriage” with the power-train.

We were told it takes five hours to put together one of these automobiles. Essentially each is built by hand with the assistance of several precision robots. To minimize ergonomic strain on the mechanics, each moves from station to station every 12 minutes.

The Rise of the Robots. It is an extremely impressive sight to watch robots at work on these cars. One emerges from the floor to perform the “marriage” by effortless screwing the two parts together with several dozen industrial size screws. Another attaches wheels with a series of human-like motions eerily similar to the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” A third installs heavy dashboards, lifting that uncomfortable task from human hands. And a fourth scrupulously measures angles, size, and fit with several hundred high-speed cameras when attaching front and rear windows.

This futuristic plan employs about 25 apprentices. We did not see them in operation. But this “transparent” plant puts on display not only the future of the automobile but the future of heavy manufacturing writ large. Henry Ford who invented the assembly line would be impressed with its 21st-century manifestation.

This futuristic plan employs about 25 apprentices. We were told that four to six of them work on the assembly line. Their final test consists of taking the parts of an automobile and putting it together — then dismantling it so that their successors can repeat the tests.

We did not see the apprentices in operation. But this “transparent” plant puts on display not only the future of the automobile but the future of heavy manufacturing writ large. Henry Ford who invented the assembly line would be impressed with its 21st-century manifestation.

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