Audi’s Neckarsulm site sets the foundation for a fully connected automotive production factory

What began in 2015 with the Audi A8 is now standard for all production processes at Audi in Neckarsulm in Southern Germany. From body shop to delivery, all models carry a personal ID with them: an RFID data carrier (“tag”) from SICK. It contains the identification number of the vehicle and allows a contactless data exchange of vehicle data via UHF RFID read/write devices.

This makes the German Audi factory the first in the Volkswagen Group to employ RFID as the primary identification medium across the entire production process. One of the reasons for this extensive digital networking is the growing individualization of customer requests. Whether it be rims, infotainment systems, seat covers or customizations, manufacturers now provide more opportunities for creating your dream car beyond just color and engine type.

Accomplishing this requires a great deal of variance in Audi’s production. Because of this, it has become increasingly important to be able to correctly identify each vehicle in production and delivery logistics. A transparent and infallible method of knowing what the next step is and how it should occur is required in practically every area.

Every Audi model must be guaranteed to roll off the production line as previously configured, guaranteed to arrive at the correct designation. This reliability, compared to the previous situation where different identification technologies were used in the various trades, has been further perfected and standardized through the consistent use of RFID technology throughout the facility.

Standardized RFID Technology Opens Doors

RFID or Radio Frequency Identification uses electromagnetic waves to enable processes to be automated via contactless reading and storage of data. The corresponding read/write devices operate in the ultra-high frequency band between 860 and 960 MHz, which is suitable for especially large scanning ranges and fast transmission, and identify the relevant production step for each model.

Every Audi manufactured at this location – from the Audi A4 to the fully electric Audi e-tron GT – immediately receives an RFID tag at the first manufacturing step: body construction. This is applied at the right rear section of the car body and then accompanies every vehicle into the paint shop, assembly, and delivery to its customer. It also brings an additional benefit to Audi. The ability to apply the 30×50 mm sized tag directly to the metal provides greater flexibility in positioning it on the vehicle. And in contrast to previous labels, this transponder remains on the vehicle, even after production is finished. The bracket previously required to attach the label is also no longer required.

The radio-based, passive data medium contains an antenna and a chip. Through the digital exchange of data via the tag, it is possible to localize and identify all workpieces at every station, from body construction to the paint shop to final assembly. Being a passive RFID label, it receives its energy for data transmission from the read/write device.

Consistency and Clarity in Each Step of Production

Both the transponder label and the on-metal transponder (OMT) are suitable for all manufacturing processes, even in demanding environments. The RFID device exhibits an exceptional resistance to external influences when exposed to extreme conditions in production. The RFID data medium can even withstand the high demands of a paint shop, and is impervious to electrostatic fields, temperatures of 200 °C and above, being sprayed with corrosion inhibitors, and immersion in the paint pre-treatment step.

The infallible identification ensures the next (individualized) step of production is immediately clear to the person working on the vehicle. The data medium is rendered permanently unreadable at the end of production.

A further advantage of the RFID-based data overview is the consistency throughout the entire process, as opposed to the hodgepodge approach of using different technologies. This allows for more informative analyses of trends as the various read situations can be compared with one another. The better the information, the greater the potential for optimizing the production process. This enables opportunities for improvement, and deviations to be predicted even before they occur.

With a fully connected solution, the Audi site in Neckarsulm has been able to not only increase the availability, but also the efficiency of the plant. RFID technology provides an important foundation for a fully connected factory and is expected to become standard in all areas of the Audi plants worldwide over the coming years.

Want to learn more about RFID technology? Contact a SICK representative today!