A digital ecosystem for Mercedes

The factory in which Daimler will produce the new S-Class should be fully networked and fully flexible. It starts in September.

Quality inspection in the line

FBelts in Ford’s factories once made cars suitable for the masses because they made assembly so cheap. More than 100 years later, the savings opportunities in car production are still not exhausted. A fully digitized car factory will bring great efficiency gains, one expects at Daimler. Whether the plan will work will soon become apparent – in “Factory 56”, where the next model of the Mercedes S-Class will be produced.

It starts as early as September, and nothing must go wrong, because the proud Stuttgart-based automaker always wants to mark the pinnacle of automotive progress with the S-Class. If this is not honored, the reputation suffers. And this time that applies not only to the vehicle itself, but also to production, as a “turning point in automobile production” was announced when the foundation stone was laid for Factory 56 two and a half years ago.

The factory should be fully networked and highly flexible because Daimler claims that it uses everything that is modern here, including the first 5G network in a car factory, which has been tested for several months together with Ericsson and O2. Here, machines talk to other machines or vehicles or people as required – and the data they exchange is not only relevant on site in Sindelfingen, but can also be used in the current production in the factories in Beijing or Tuscaloosa via the cloud flow in.

Payback after three months

This, in turn, should not be a gimmick, but part of quality management: If the machine data show any abnormality, this should be known immediately at the appropriate points in all plants so that the error can be avoided there. What makes all processes run like clockwork here is called Mercedes-Benz Cars Operations 360 or “MO360” for short. The “digital production ecosystem” is not a completely new invention, but has gradually expanded in the Mercedes production network with factories in 30 locations and with 2000 suppliers. In Factory 56, however, the platform is to be used in full for the first time, linking all processes with one another, from ordering to the final inspection of each car.

In theory, even the customer himself can submit change requests until very shortly before assembly: “Prefer purple paint instead of black” would no longer be a problem in the factory of tomorrow. As far as this can be organized in the background by the machines, everything is prepared for such order changes – until the employees notice anything at all. Conversely, all data is made available to you for the next work step, depending on your needs with different devices. Augmented Reality also plays a major role here, as it marks, for example, exactly the part that needs to be picked up next. Information on paper, on the other hand, no longer has a place in the digital world – which is why ten tons of paper should be saved annually in Factory 56 alone.

Shop floor management should allow quick and concentrated access to production and control-relevant key figures.
Shop floor management should allow quick and concentrated access to production and control-relevant key figures. : Image: Mercedes-Benz AG

“Thanks to the improved processes, comprehensive data availability and quick decisions based on real-time data, we will increase production efficiency by more than 15 percent by 2022,” says Jörg Burzer, Member of the Mercedes Board Member for Production. The basis for comparison is the year 2019. The assumption that this will result in a further overcapacity in the Mercedes plants beyond the already existing overcapacities is obvious: In Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, which has an area of ​​around 30 soccer fields, only a few hundred employees are employed to be found. But Burzer emphasizes: “It’s not just about the colleagues on the assembly line. The concept of efficiency extends to the entire value chain. “

The cost advantage cannot be expressed in billions, but Mercedes-Benz Production Director Burzer speaks of an “extremely favorable cost position”. Jan Brecht, Daimler manager responsible for IT solutions, reports that the heart of the MO360 platform has paid for itself after three years and that the various applications have paid off after 18 months.

Since MO360 relies on reusable API interfaces and free and open source software, the automaker also has a large community of software developers all over the world who are interested in tinkering with specific problems and their very own Bring perspective and previous knowledge – without any fee. More than 20,000 users are registered on the relevant Github portal, according to Brecht.

Unintentional technology transfer is not a problem, emphasizes Daimler: the respective projects can also be fed with historical model data so that no know-how is lost. Conversely, it is hoped that the MO360 digital ecosystem will attract completely different interested parties. There has been positive response from a wide variety of industries and fields of activity, reports Burzer from initial informal discussions.