What are the essential benefits of virtual assembly planning in smart production?
Virtual assembly planning not only saves material resources but also makes innovative, flexible collaboration possible across different locations. It eliminates the need to build prototypes in the planning process. A scanning process generates three-dimensional point clouds that can be used to virtually reverse engineer machines and infrastructure. The software is based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. It makes it possible for employees at Audi to navigate through assembly lines virtually. Volkswagen’s Industrial Cloud gives them an efficient tool that allows them, for example, to compare locations and use appropriate solutions from other production lines in their planning.
Right now, Audi is working with NavVis to test Spot the robot dog so they can do the 3D scans as efficiently as possible. Around four million square meters (43 million sq. ft.) and 13 plants have been involved since site digitalization started in 2017. Scanning 100,000 square meters (1,076,391 sq. ft.) – for instance, in Audi A6 production in Neckarsulm – takes about three weeks in single-shift operation. The scans can only be done at night or on weekends. On top of that, structural obstacles like steps and doors make scanning work more difficult.
By contrast, Spot the robot dog can do that scanning in 48 hours and figure out his route autonomously. Audi has been testing Spot intensively since December 2021. “The test results are extremely promising and can be updated regularly,” says project manager André Bongartz. “Input data are constantly coming in, and we can use it in planning for new car models.” Any range of 3D scans can be integrated into the virtual images, which Andrés Kohler’s team is responsible for. “Merging all the planning data in our digital twin has given us a holistic look at our future production plans years ahead of time,” Kohler explains. Like in a real factory, it includes the shop floor, conveyor technology, tools, shelving, and containers alongside the new Audi model.
Assembly sequences and logistical aspects are largely designed and optimized by interdisciplinary teams in what is known as 3D process workshops. Thanks to the digital twin and an in-house VR solution, Audi exploits the benefits of digitalization and visualization. These include component data that are updated daily and a view of various car variants. “Above all, we look at production in terms of what it will look like later on as a whole,” Andrés Kohler explains. He emphasizes that collaboration remains a core element: “I’m always fascinated all over again the moment we put on the VR glasses and meet our colleagues as avatars in the virtual world. First, we build our new Audi there or look at a computer-generated avatar and how it applies as a real-time simulation. And when necessary, while we're in there together, we discuss and optimize the sequences and the workplace environment, like how to set up materials of what tools are needed.”