No OEM can escape the need for reliable logistics in today’s competitive automotive industry. However, the function arguably has a more elevated status at some companies.
At Audi, logistics and in-plant material flow are major if not defining features of its production system, as logistics directly influences output, worker movements and part variety. Years before production, Dr Michael Hauf and his team plan part flows through small- and large-load carriers, sequencing and kitting, thus supporting the proliferation of part numbers and options.
The innovation in technology is impressive. Automated parts warehouses at Audi’s main German plants in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm, for example, tranship tens of thousands of containers per day. There are lifts that move 44-tonne trucks from the logistics area to the assembly floor and both plants have large, multi-storey vehicle distribution centres, including a platform in Ingolstadt that partly automates the loading of vehicles onto rail wagons.
Such systems help Audi to keep its German plants running on three shifts and building different models on the same line. Output is at record highs despite the plants’ ages and limits. As such, its strategies are relevant to OEMs pushing plants to the limits of their capacity, be they in the UK, Michigan, Mexico or Shanghai (see our full list of Audi coverage here).
However, while they are state-of-the-art, not every logistics process or technology at Audi’s German plants is a ‘benchmark’ for the industry. Multi-storey car parks with moving platforms and logistics centres linked to assembly by conveyor systems work very well, but if you had enough space you might avoid both. Thus, Audi’s newer factories in Hungary or Mexico take on a different shape, even if the principles are the same. The mother tongue of logistics remains German, you might say, but it is translated to the local vernacular.
Perhaps most impressive is Audi’s advanced logistics planning, from designing packaging to influencing part designs. It’s an approach that OEM executives have always claimed they take, but in the past year a number have admitted to me that their companies have only recently started to do it beyond the basic requirements of a new launch. The benefits are obvious and the relevance in places like China or Mexico, where so many new plants are still being added, couldn’t be clearer. Not everyone needs to speak or act like Germans in logistics, but they would do well to plan like them.