Electric dreams become
reality at VW Zwickau
Volkswagen has converted its plant in Zwickau, Germany to exclusively make electric vehicles, starting with the ID.3. Marcus Williams talks to Stefan Mader, manager of logistics planning and control at the plant, about the pioneering logistics strategy helping to turn Zwickau into the biggest EV plant in Europe
More than 6m vehicles have rolled off the lines at Volkswagen’s plant in Zwickau, eastern Germany, since it started production in 1990 but this summer the plant made its last one with a combustion engine – a Golf R Estate with a 2.0-litre petrol engine.
From now on Zwickau will only produce electric vehicles, starting with the ID.3 and, from the last week of August this year, the ID.4 electric SUV (though it will continue to make bodies for the Lamborghini and Bentley luxury brands). EV production will grow to six electric models for three of the VW Group brands (including Audi and Seat) by next year and the carmaker expects output to hit 330,000 units, making it the biggest EV factory in Europe.
Zwickau by numbers
6,049,207 vehicles made since 1990
€1.2 billion investment for EV production
330,000 annual EV output capacity in 2021
45% reduction in C02 per vehicle produced by
2025 (on 2010)
460kg weight of MEB battery
VW Zwickau has transformed into an exlusive EV manufacturing facility, beginning with production of the ID.3
In fact, initial production of the ID.3 started in November 2019. That is when VW began to convert the plant to make cars based on the modular electric drive toolkit (MEB), the platform on which the ID.3 is built and on which future EVs will be based. The conversion of Zwickau is costing €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion), part of a bigger €9 billion figure that VW is ploughing into electric mobility between now and 2023.
The switch to assembly of EVs exclusively means an increase in electronic parts, as does the fact the ID.3 will feature a range of smart technology. That means more hi-tech suppliers alongside the traditional suppliers of complex body construction and componentry, such as Meleghy Automotive, Adient, Grupo Antolin, HBPO, Leoni, Magna, Radsysteme and SAS, to name just a few.
Parts are line fed just-in-time [JIT] on trains following sequenced routes from the parts supermarkets. However, there are some notable innovations in the plant logistics supporting the MEB platform and ID.3 assembly, according to Stefan Mader, manager of logistics planning and control, Volkswagen Zwickau.
The delivery of the lithium-ion battery to the line is being carried out by a fully automated process, starting with the loading of the batteries in the service station at VW Group Components’ plant in Brunswick (Germany), shipping by rail, unloading at Zwickau, then storage, sequencing and lining up via conveyor technology.
“This system is the first of its kind in the automotive industry,” says Mader. “This is combined with the use of fully electric 40-tonne trucks for internal transport within the factory, where Zwickau is also in the vanguard.”
The longitudinal beam used to house the battery cells, controllers and cell balancing in the ID.3’s battery is also being delivered on a short cycle in what Mader describes as a ‘quasi-JIT’ process direct from its local supplier, who is 50km from the plant, removing the need for intermediary handling stages.
The increased localisation of key components more generally has had a positive effect on inventory values, according to Mader, and while the inbound volumes per vehicle have increased, the transport distances have been reduced, with gains for efficiency and environment.
VW Group Components supplying Zwickau
Volkswagen Group Components is supplying numerous parts for the production of VW’s ID.3 EV.
The ID.3’s battery system is being manufactured at Brunswick (Germany) in a new hall built especially for its production. Brunswick will be supplying 500,000 battery systems a year for delivery to Zwickau at full production. Brunswick is also making running gear components and assembling front and rear axles for the ID.3.
The components plant in Kassel, meanwhile, will mainly make electric drives for the modular electric drive toolkit (MEB). The factory will put together the electric drive’s components, including parts from plants in Salzgitter and Hanover, and the Polish plant in Poznań.
Kassel will also manufacture the platform parts of the battery box frames, damper mounts, cross-members and tunnel, which are delivered to Zwickau for assembly to complete the vehicle body. Kassel will also make the ID.3’s dual-clutch gearbox.
VW said the components plant in Salzgitter is becoming specialised in manufacturing rotors and stators, in addition to conventional engine production. In future, up to 2,000 rotors and stators will be produced daily, along with petrol, diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) drives.
The Center of Excellence (CoE) in Salzgitter is also building up sustainable battery cell expertise for the VW Group, pilot cell production has started and a pilot recycling plant at the Salzgitter location is also planned this year.
VW reorganised its global components business into a separate division back in 2018.
However, it is in the use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that VW is making real progress at Zwickau. The delivery of parts to the assembly lines at Zwickau is being made completely autonomous with the introduction of more than 200 AGVs.
“We are working on nothing less than a revolution in the field of AGVs,” says Mader. “We are currently in the transition from the planning phase to the design phase. If everything goes according to plan, we will be able to see the first AGVs in series production later this year. We are initiating a paradigm shift here because of the increased demands from production and logistics. [The] fast-moving changes, including in terms of model, require a high degree of flexibility that the AGVs available on the market today are no longer able to cope with.”
VW Zwickau will be using three different AGVs to supply the bodyshop and assembly line that will automatically move the containers of parts from the warehouse and transfer them directly to the automatic lineside systems. They will be controlled by AI and Internet-of-things (IoT) software newly developed for VW, which will autonomously calculate the most efficient route. Everything is being newly developed for its application at Zwickau, including the vehicles themselves, the navigation technology, the system of communication and the guidance control software.
“The system is the first of its kind in the field of AGVs,” says Mader. “Zwickau is a pioneer here, not just for the VW Group but for the entire industry. The system is completed by another innovation – the AGV battery [which] is produced internally at VW from returned ID.3 batteries.”
That battery supply is part of the Second Life Project Environment running with VW Group Components’ plant in Brunswick, which is supplying the batteries to Zwickau for the ID.3, and further details of that project will be revealed next year.
Among the other notable logistics developments at Zwickau are the use of a virtual container acceptance system and the use of fully digital and automated logistics retrieval and control systems.
In establishing the best type of container in which to ship the new parts needed on the ID.3 (and any future models), Mader says it is no longer necessary to work with real parts and prototype containers because the whole process can be done virtually.
“If I have checked the virtual parts in the virtual container and can exclude all collisions, I can start building the production containers immediately,” he says. “This means considerable time and material savings.”
In addition, MEB planners from different locations in the VW Group network can participate in the virtual reality process, regardless of where they are, whether it be Chattanooga, China, Mladá Boleslav, Emden, Zwickau or Wolfsburg.
Zwickau also benefits from automated material ordering, with parts being reordered as they are installed on the line.
“This means that there is no need for anyone to monitor material stocks, place manual reorders and thus order too much or too little,” says Mader. “Also, there are no longer peaks in release orders that previously occurred at the beginning of a shift, because an employee has reordered everything at the beginning of their shift. This leads to a continuous, smoothed, resource-optimised material flow.”
The plant also has a 30-metre high fully automatic high-bay warehouse for large load carriers (GLTs) that will automatically feed the new high-performance press shop, which is currently under construction.
Next in line, VW is converting its Emden plant in Lower Saxony, Germany, investing €1 billion in its transformation and with plans for EV production from 2022.
Over the next ten years, VW Group says it will be launching 70 pure electric cars onto the market.
The stockpiling of parts is largely dependent on replenishment times, transport concepts and the delivery quality of the suppliers. The increased localisation of important components thus had a positive effect on inventory values
Stefan Mader, VW Zwickau
We are working on nothing less than a revolution in the field of AGVs… We are initiating a paradigm shift here because of the increased demands from production and logistics… that the AGVs available on the market today are no longer able to cope with
Stefan Mader, VW Zwickau
There is no need for anyone to monitor material stocks, place manual reorders and thus order too much or too little. Also, there are no longer peaks in release orders that previously occurred at the beginning of a shift
Stefan Mader, VW Zwickau