The FINANCIAL — The start of the new A-Class at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt, 90 km west of Stuttgart in Germany, is the trigger for the production of the new generation of compact cars in five plants on three continents.
Starting the serial production, Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production & Supply Chain, drove the first vehicle off the assembly line in Rastatt. Symbolically he focused the next A-Class plant: With the infotainment system MBUX and the What3Words address, he headed for the Kecskemét plant in Hungary: The address ‘empires-astronaut-handshake’ is leading exactly to the end of the production line, where the first A-Class “Made at the Mercedes-Benz Kecskemét plant” will roll off in just a few weeks.
“Mercedes-Benz Cars starts an unprecedented ramp-up cascade with the A-Class. In our global production network, we can ramp-up the production of our vehicles in proven top quality and supply the global market even faster. Using modern industry 4.0 technologies our plants are becoming even more flexible and efficient,” says Markus Schäfer.
The new A-Class is the first model of the fourth generation of compact cars and replaces the predecessor model produced since 2012. The compact car family currently consists of five models: A-, B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA. In future there will be eight models, according to Daimler.
First new A-Class rolls off the production line in Rastatt
Rastatt in Germany is the lead plant for compact cars in the global production network of Mercedes-Benz Cars. The plant is responsible for control and planning as well as quality and supplier management on a global basis. In addition, Rastatt coordinates production in the compact car production network at the Kecskemét plant in Hungary, at Beijing-Benz Automotive Co. Ltd (BBAC) in China and at the Finnish production partner Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki. In future, the joint venture production plant COMPAS (Cooperation Manufacturing Plant Aguascalientes) in Aguascalientes in Central Mexico will expand the global compact car production network of Mercedes-Benz Cars. The production of the A-Class in Kecskemét and at Valmet Automotive will start in the second quarter of 2018. The Rastatt plant supports the smooth ramp-up in the other plants, for example by qualifying employees and technical experts on site.
“Our Rastatt team has done a great job in the last months. We have mastered the demanding production program of the current generation of compact cars, successfully completed the ramp-up of the new A-Class at our plant and at the same time optimally prepared our colleagues in the other compact car plants,” says Thomas Geier, site manager Mercedes-Benz Rastatt plant.
For the start of production of the A-Class, apprentices from the Rastatt plant produced a steering wheel model using modern additive production processes (3D printing). The steering wheel has a screen on which employees can upload messages for the next plant in the ramp-up cascade. The steering wheel is passed on from plant to plant like a baton and thus travels once around the whole world.
The ramp-up of the new A-Class sets a new milestone at the Rastatt location. It is now the fourth generation of compact cars rolling off the production line in Rastatt. More than 4.7 million cars have been produced in Rastatt since 1992. The first Mercedes-Benz A-Class was produced at the Rastatt plant in 1997 and started the success story of the compact cars at Mercedes-Benz.
Extensive construction work was part of the preparations for the new compact car generation. For example, two body-in-white shops have been expanded to over 50,000 m2. The construction of additional production areas was necessary to continue the preceding generation of the A-Class as well as the B-Class and the GLA without interruption until the start of the new vehicle generation. The new space will also be needed in the future for the production of the new models at the site. In the future, this will also include compact electric vehicles of the product and technology brand EQ.
The new training centre at the Rastatt plant is a central qualification area for all compact car factories. There, up to 240 employees can train simultaneously. They then pass on what they have learned to their colleagues at the site and in the other compact car plants.
Digital and flexible production
All Mercedes-Benz plants in the global production network are connected via the “Integra” system. Thus, for example, the Rastatt plant, as the lead plant for the compact models worldwide, can access data from all other locations of the production network and – if necessary – remotely connect to systems and robots or install programs and test them prior to commissioning. In this way, improvements can be adopted for all plants in the sense of best practice. In addition, modern digital production technologies and forward-looking industry 4.0 solutions are used:
Driverless Transport Systems (DTS): With its multitude of equipment variants, the new A-Class places high production standards in terms of efficiency and flexibility, which, among other things, are implemented with the help of intelligent logistics concepts, among other things. Driverless transport systems (DTS) deliver shopping carts with components and parts precisely matched to the individual vehicle on the conveyor belt, where they are mounted without intermediate buffers.
The concept of a “paperless factory”, which replaces the documentation of the individual work steps on paper, will be successively integrated by means of state-of-the-art data transmission and new hardware solutions. Additional mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones and smart watches support employees in the individual work steps.
Adjustment of head-up displays: The new A-Class has an optional head-up display (HUD). Important information is projected directly into the driver’s field of vision on the windscreen. To ensure that the display is within the driver’s field of vision, it must be adjusted after installation. At the new A-Class a new and particularly simple process is used for this purpose. This can be done at selected points on the assembly line. An employee sits behind the steering wheel with a tablet computer equipped with two additional cameras. One camera measures the tablet to a specific point in the instrument panel. Arrows on the screen tell the employee where to place the tablet. When this is achieved, a recording is automatically triggered via the second camera and the image is analysed. The derived setting parameters are sent via Wi-Fi via OBD interface to the control unit of the HUD and adjusted accordingly. The second camera then checks the position and shape of the image.
Quality Gate: The so-called “Q-Gate” offers live visualizations of the production steps on the conveyor belt and thus makes quality inspection processes digital and in real time possible.
Sustainable and energy-efficient production
Through continuous improvement over the past few years in the Rastatt plant, significant reductions in energy consumption per vehicle have been achieved. For the start of the new compact car generation, a new, more energy-efficient painting system was installed.
In production, the focus is on avoiding production waste. Rejects that cannot be avoided are collected separately and recycled.
The new A-Class – The benchmark in the compact class
The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class celebrated its world premiere in Amsterdam on February 2nd, 2018 and was presented to the general public for the first time at the Autosaloon in Geneva in March. The market launch is in May.
The new A-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz model to feature the completely new multimedia system MBUX – Mercedes-Benz User Experience, which also ushers in a new era in Mercedes me connectivity. A unique feature of this system is its ability to learn thanks to artificial intelligence. MBUX can be individualised and adapts to suit the user. As an option, it also has intelligent voice control, which is activated with the words “Hey Mercedes”.
Despite its sporty look, the new A-Class has considerably more utility value, making it as youthful as ever but grown-up like never before. More shoulder, elbow and headroom plus easier access to the rear are clear benefits, as is the larger and more family- and recreation-friendly luggage compartment. The all-round view has also been considerably improved. This benefits both safety and space. The new A-Class has the very latest driving assistance systems with cooperative driver support, giving it the highest level of active safety in this segment with functions adopted from the S‑Class.
The new A-Class is not only full of innovations. It is also produced in a truly innovative way using modern technologies that make the digital factory a reality. Recently in Rastatt – and soon in Kecskemét and Uusikaupunki.