In the latest example of Industry 4.0 technology being used across the VW Group for logistics applications, Audi is conducting a drone pilot project to more efficiently locate vehicles for dispatch at its Neckarsulm assembly plant in Germany.

Each vehicle produced at the Neckarsulm plant has an RFID chip installed during the assembly process and the drone is equipped with an RFID reader to identify the vehicles selected for outbound shipment.

According to Audi, the drone flies autonomously at 10 metres on a predefined route over the dispatch storage area reading the RFID signals of the vehicles and recording their GPS location. Once it has landed the data is automatically transmitted to a database via WiFi and displayed on a digital map for operatives to identify exactly where the specific vehicles are that need to be pulled.

“The fast locating of the vehicles creates even higher process quality and is a further stepping-stone on the path to digital production,” said Steffen Conrad, project manager for innovation management at the Audi site in Neckarsulm. “The drone provides support from a completely new perspective. We will now share our experiences with other Audi sites and within the VW Group.

As part of the automated technology the drone automatically receives weather conditions around the plant premises and if the wind is too strong or there is too much rainfall, the drone will not take off, according to Audi. In addition, the software checks the drone’s battery level and temperature before each flight. If the checks do not pass the specified safety parameters, it will remain on the ground.

The pilot project is currently being transferred to permanent series testing.

As part of the testing, employees start and monitor the flight from a laptop or tablet. In the event of an emergency, they can use a remote control to intervene. Audi said four employees at Neckarsulm have already been trained on how to use industrial drones and have obtained drone licences.

This is the latest example of smart technology being used by VW Group for both inbound and outbound logistics. Seat has been using drones for deliveries at its Martorell plant since last year and Audi has also recently introduced a smart logistics system called Supermarket 2.0 in which AGVs move containers to pick stations  on a ‘goods-to-person’ principle. There is also now an autonomous ordering and delivery system CNC line at the Skoda transmission plant in Vrchlabí, Czech Republic.

Read more about the Industry 4.0 technology being used at Audi, including our interview with Lars Witte, director of brand logistics planning at the carmaker

And for more about the latest developments in technology across the automotive industry, see our forthcoming Automotive Logistics Technology supplement