Mercedes Turns to the Industrial Strength Cloud for Quality Assurance
NEWS ANALYSIS: Cloud-based robots help Mercedes Benz ensure quality and efficiency while reducing resources and managing the environmental impact of its production.STUTTGART, Germany—I was transfixed as the huge yellow robot swung the front portion of a car's chassis around as if it weighed nothing. Then, the robot stopped and with the future car held steady, two big electrodes came together and sparks flew, and as the smoke cleared, the robot moved the part a few inches, and did it again. I stood next to the Mercedes Benz representative and muttered, "Amazing." We moved on and watched another robot making spot welds, at one point stopping to sharpen its electrodes, test them and then go back to work. Bjorn, the Mercedes representative, explained while I followed him to another station in the vast factory that Mercedes likes to call the Welding Shop that each part of what will eventually become a complete Mercedes Benz automobile is tracked, and that every reading for every weld is stored in a private cloud for further analysis. He said that this means that everything that's measureable—the voltage and amperage used for each weld, the pressure of the electrodes on the steel of the chassis, how recently the robot had cleaned each electrode and sharpened it—was stored for every part of every car. I was on a public factory tour of the Mercedes Benz factory in Sindelfingen, Germany, along with my friend and colleague Alan Zeichick. This suburb of Stuttgart is one of the largest automobile factories in the world. Despite the factory's huge size, everything is interconnected, which is the case with most modern production facilities, but there's more to the interconnection than meets the eye. Sure, the cars grow as they move from place to place, and separate production lines take care of subassemblies as you'd expect, but beneath all of the magic of seeing a modern vehicle being put together, there is a rhythm that's conducted by cloud-linked robots and other production machinery.
By using the cloud and some dedicated software that was developed by the big German auto makers, including BMW and Volkswagen as well as Mercedes, the entire process is orchestrated so that parts are produced, assembled and then brought together in a single, unified flow. Each part that will become the car is tracked to the original order, and as each of those assemblies is tracked, the cloud-based production system tracks every part of each one.