This is an exclusive article from the 2017 edition of Mexico Automotive Review. If you want to get all the information, plus other relevant insights regarding the Mexican automotive industry, get your copy of Mexico Automotive Review or check out the digital version of the publication.
Article based on an exclusive interview with Alfons Dintner, President of Audi México.
Q: What do you see as the main opportunity for Mexico to develop its local supplier network?
A: If all suppliers were already equipped with the latest IT systems, the entire value chain would be more competitive. This is part of the idea behind Industry 4.0 and a challenge all around the world. Materials and components need to spend as little time traveling as possible so communication and supplier integration is crucial. We need intelligent systems to know where components are and how we can shorten our logistics and manufacturing cycles.
Q: How is Audi innovating to incorporate Industry 4.0 practices in its new plant?
A: It can be hard to translate technology from theory to practice but our plant in Mexico is an example of how Industry 4.0 can be integrated right from the construction of the plant itself. We built our facility in San Jose Chiapa in record time and before we moved all our manufacturing equipment to our body shop, we modeled the facility on a computer. We projected that same model onto the production floor with a laser, so our team knew where each machine should be and how to secure it to the floor. We projected the arrangement of 670 robots plus a number of connecting conveyor belts for our body shop and every interconnection between machines was already digitally mapped beforehand. In the end, instead of isolated work modules, we had a completely interconnected construction and later manufacturing system.
Production is monitored through our control center and vehicles are traced with radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas. All manufactured cars are traced during each step of the process; the computer knows the model and color of the car, its features and its destination. The system displays which machines are operating and information on any piece of equipment in the factory, all in real time. This means we can monitor every car in the plant from any Audi site in the world. Our logistics, manufacturing and IT experts work together in the control center to determine how the plant is running and where potential improvements can be made. Some of our suppliers already send their components with RFID tags, so we can be sure that everything is on its way and gets to the right place at the right time. The information we gather from the control center is also available to our suppliers, so we can perfectly manage just-in-sequence operations with our partners.
Q: What is the ratio between automation and talent in Audi’s Mexican operations?
A: Each stage in the plant has a different level of automation. The body shop is 87 percent automated. Final assembly is mostly handled with manual labor and we always make sure we maintain the highest levels of comfort and ergonomics to support our people.