It lasted for more than a 100 years but is the Henry Ford assembly line soon outdated?

Audi is rethinking the assembly line!

Yes you heard right. Audi is rethinking the assembly line! It seems like Henry Fords invention is starting to show some weakness 100 years after its introduction. A lot of things has changed in hundred years, but it seems like the assembly line has been very resistant.

Of course it has been improved over the years, but the basic principals has always been the same.  A rigid flow and a rigid assembly sequence, which means that all cars are moving down the same path (assembly line) in the factory. This is a brilliant idea when the products are similar to each other in terms of design and assembly time.

But as we all know, this is not the case. The number of products and models are exploding, and customers are constantly seeking for more customization. A rigid assembly line in combination with increased diversity means that many cars needs to pass assembly stations that are not needed for that car.

For example; even if the car is lacking electric sunroof, it needs to pass the station where the sunroof is assembled. Same will happen as electrification and hybrids are implemented. Assembly stations for batteries and electrical engines will be needed, and cars without these features are forced to pass these stations just wafting without any value added.

Audi’s solution is a completely new concept called modular assembly. The idea behind it is production without assembly lines, broken down into the individual work stages. The new assembly stations are occupied by one or two operators. The cars are transported between the assembly stations with self driving vehicles.

Unlike on the assembly line, the routines in modular assembly are highly flexible with regard to time and space. The focus is on the car, not the process. The car is simply moving to the station that is needed for that specific car. When the central computer recognizes a jam at a station a driverless vehicle is heading for, it can often redirect it to another vacant station.

As you probably understand, this new approach of assembly will require a disruptive change in the way we deliver and present parts. A super flexible logistic set up is the key enabler. As cars are not following the same path, the material needs to be delivered to different locations, at different times and in different quantities depending on the car configuration. And those parameters are changing all the time based on the customer demand.   

Audi will use small driverless vehicles that supplies the stations just in time with the components they need – from screws to sliding roofs. The assembled car decides what parts that needs to be delivered. Just as important as the driverless vehicles are the transport carts that holds and present the material. To handle the increased need for customization, these carts needs to be robust, easy to design, and easy to adapt. Exactly what we do at FlexQube! We are committed to create the next generation of industrial carts. We call them Industrial Carts 4.0!

Regardless if you work within automotive, construction machinery, home appliances or other manufacturing segments, prepare yourself for change. I think Audi is showing the future direction of assembly.

Visit www.flexqube.com or contact us to learn more.

Per Augustsson
CTO, The FlexQube group

Also find more of the articles written by Per here.

https://www.audi-mediacenter.com/en/audi-techday-smart-factory-7076/modular-assembly-7078
http://www.vdmaimpulse.org/article/-/article/render/124680

 

Modern assembly line will be needing flexible material handling carts
Copyright: AUDI AG - https://www.audi-mediacenter.com/en/presskits/audi-techday-smart-factory-7008

Copyright: AUDI AG - https://www.audi-mediacenter.com/en/presskits/audi-techday-smart-factory-7008

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