Mercedes-Benz pilot test for automated driving in production
3 July 2017
Mercedes-Benz is pilot testing the use of automated driving in production with its new S-Class. At the Mercedes-Benz plant Sindelfingen, an S 560 4MATIC drove itself independently off the final assembly line, without a driver at the wheel. The vehicle then drove automatically approximately 1.5 kilometers to the loading area within the plant.
Newly developed and patented technology supports the autonomous function. Cameras, together with radar and ultrasonic sensors work in conjunction with software to accelerate and brake the S-Class independently and ensure that it stays reliably on track.
The independent journey from the production line to the plant’s loading area shows the future of how we will be able to use driver assistance systems in production. We are taking the next step in the digitalization of our complete value-added chain. We are systematically applying Industry 4.0 in all areas from development and production through to the customer. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, a Mercedes-Benz will even find its own way from the production line to its new owner.
—Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain
Now that the technical prerequisites for automated driving from the assembly line to the loading area have been put in place, the Sindelfingen plant is currently piloting the possible use of the system for series production and investigating its further potential. The finished vehicles are currently driven from the assembly halls to the loading car parks by members of staff. A shuttle service then brings the employees back to their starting point. The pilot test provides an opportunity to gather practical experience for the future of “autonomous driving” on public roads, which can be used in for further development.
Industry 4.0 processes at manufacturing stations. The start of production for the new and fundamentally updated S-Class also brings the introduction of advanced manufacturing processes and Industry 4.0 solutions in the assembly area.
Close integration with IT systems and communication technology results in the optimization of the flow of materials, further improved flexibility and efficiency, and enhanced ergonomics for the workforce. Examples of this are:
Advanced data transmission and hardware solutions, combined under the heading of “paperless factory”, now replace paper documentation. Screens provide staff with the information they need about the specifications of each individual vehicle. Additional mobile devices such as tablets, mini PCs and smart PDAs support the employees during each step of the work process.
An innovative tracking system detects vehicles in a virtual image of the factory in real time. Mounted transmitters can accurately identify the position of the vehicles on the assembly line and can exchange data with devices such as wireless Wi-Fi screwdrivers. This enables for example the electronic documentation of data, such as the torque, for quality assurance.
The flexible delivery of small-load carriers to the production line is ensured by a system known as FLOW (Flexible Logistics Optimized Warehouse). This new driverless picking system provides the supply of materials to the production line as and when they are needed. The whole system is currently part of a pilot test that aims to validate the system for series production for the new S-Class. The small-load carriers are transported autonomously around the shop floor via a guidance system with reference magnets embedded in the hall floor and can be automatically allocated to any specific storage shelf. The driverless picking system is equipped with laser scanners for safety, which prevent potential collisions.
The delivery of components for the interior and engine compartment demands lean and efficient processes. More than 500 different items must be delivered punctually to the assembly line. The filling of the “shopping basket” represents the interface to the logistics area. It is pre-selected with all necessary parts and components required to fulfil the specific customer order and then delivered directly and completely automatically to the line, negating the need to keep materials stored on shelves. This creates more space around the assembly lines, reduces walking distances and keeps the workstations tidier and more ergonomic for the workforce. Whether the specific model is a sedan with long or short wheelbases, a Mercedes-Maybach or a coupé or cabriolet: all variants of this luxury car are produced on one line.
VaMoS (Variables Montagesystem, or Variable Assembly System) is a new, variable assembly system. VaMoS consists of mobile platforms which are synchronized with the production line to carry a worker and his or her tools alongside the vehicle being produced. The technology, developed by Daimler, is not only responsible for improving the ergonomics of the task, but can also reduce manufacturing time and the time spent by the worker to get from one job to the next.
A recent addition helping to improve the ergonomics for the workforce working on the S-Class production line is the ErgoSkid. This fully automatic device raises the vehicles on the assembly line by 26 centimeters and then lowers them again. Employees working on the installation of the cable harnesses for the floor assembly are able to benefit from this ergonomic improvement. The ErgoSkid is used exclusively in Mercedes-Benz production facilities around the world.
The S-Class production line is currently testing the automatic assembly of seal plugs. An intelligent lightweight robot takes on the task of inserting the plugs in the underbody. Until now this was completed by staff having to perform overhead work on the vehicle. In the future, this robotic solution will be used in the production line for a range of Mercedes-Benz models.
A new function within “Mercedes me” makes it possible for a customer to order the desired vehicle from the retailer and then to track its production status online from home or while traveling.
New S-Class. The new S-Class, which celebrated its world premiere in the middle of April at the Auto Shanghai motor show, will be launched in Europe from the middle of July. One of its highlights is an all-new and efficient engine range with a series of new technologies for electrification of the powertrain. Further, “Intelligent Drive” takes another step towards autonomous driving. (Earlier post.)
Several new engines are planned for the new S-Class: in-line six cylinders as diesel and gasoline engines as well as a new V8 biturbo gasoline engine. In addition, Mercedes-Benz plans a plug-in hybrid with an electric range of about 50 kilometers (31 miles). At the same time, technologies such as the 48-volt Integrated Starter Generator (ISG) and the electric booster compressor (eZV) celebrate their world premiere.
The top-of-the-range model takes another step towards autonomous driving and elevates Intelligent Drive to the next level. Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steer Assist now provide even more comfortable support, helping the driver to keep a safe distance and to steer. The speed is now adjusted automatically ahead of curves or junctions.