Virtual reality and 3D scans: Digitally planned production of the Audi e-tron GT
A variety of prototypes are used in the conventional planning process for the production of a new Audi model. The vehicle prototypes are fabricated during the early planning phase as one-off models with hand-built parts. This is time consuming and cost intensive. Assembly Planning uses these prototypes to define and optimize the later production processes. What are the employee’s tasks? Where does a part have to be located for the employee to have optimal access to it? Can the employee hold and install the part by him- or herself? How does she have to move to do it? Are other parts in the way? What tools does he need? During production planning for the Audi e-tron GT, these questions were derived and answered entirely in the virtual world. Every step and every action was tested in the digital space using virtual reality. The goal of virtual planning is to ensure that during the later production of the vehicle, all processes are perfectly meshed and the cycles along the line are seamlessly coordinated. This requires that every detail of the production hall be modeled precisely and to scale. This is where 3D scans come into play. Using special hardware and software, they create a virtual reproduction of the physical production facility, including all equipment, tools and shelves.
Virtual reality and 3D scans: Digitally planned production of the Audi e-tron GT The Audi Böllinger Höfe at the Neckarsulm site, where the Audi e-tron GT is built, thus also exist in the digital world. And thanks to new, digital planning methods, the production of tomorrow can be planned virtually years in advance on the basis of this model.
The Audi e-tron GT is the brand’s first vehicle for which the assembly procedures and associated logistics processes were tested exclusively virtually and without any physical prototypes.
To do this, a holistic, virtual model of the planned assembly with vehicle data, material handling, equipment, tools and the planned processes is prepared as a so-called digital model. The 3D scans are one element of this. The digital model is the basis for further innovations, as Andrés Kohler, responsible for virtual assembly planning at Audi, explains. “Thanks to a VR solution developed here at Audi and the digital model, colleagues from all over the world can now meet in virtual spaces and find themselves in the middle of the production facility of tomorrow. They can look over the shoulders of digital workers as they perform the planned procedures. They can also experience and optimize the planned processes for any part variants in our application.” The results can then be used to train employees, also on the basis of the VR application. These new possibilities are now being used in an increasing number of additional projects and at multiple sites. A 3P workshop (3P = Production Preparation Process), for example, was held at the Audi site in San José Chiapa, Mexico, and project team members from Ingolstadt also took part. As digital avatars and thus completely virtually, the experts discussed and planned the production of the Audi Q5 face lift and the new Q5 Sportback in VR.
All assembly procedures are jointly defined and tested in real time, as are ergonomic aspects or the exact arrangement of machines, shelves and parts along the assembly line. Audi is the Group lead for the development of the comprehensive VR solution including the digital model. The project is being continued across brand lines under the leadership of the four rings as a Group project and rolled out to more and more sites.
Virtual planning is not restricted to just processes and work procedures. Objects such as containers for the transport and storage of sensitive parts, called special load containers, can also be planned using this technology. These containers for individual, particularly sensitive parts of the Audi e-tron GT, such as electric modules or interior parts – were planned using Audi’s cross-site and cross-division virtually reality application rather than using multiple physical prototypes of iron and steel. Virtual container planning works like this: Since there are data sets for all parts, these can be loaded directly and to-scale in the VR application. As in the 3P workshops, multiple employees from different sites meet in a virtual space, where they use the part to check the perfect and tailored load carrier. Employees from Logistics, Assembly Planning, Occupational Safety, Quality Assurance, Material Flow Planning and also suppliers are involved in this process. They use digital pens to mark their changes on the virtual containers. The containers are loaded and unloaded, moved and measured during this process.
Optimal safety of the part during transport is one objective of this planning. But employees or a robot must also be able to easily grab the part and remove it from the load carrier. Once the virtual design is complete, the data are simply exported and the special load carrier manufactured.
The digital model is the basis for further possibilities in the virtual space. If you combine the possibilities of virtual planning including the digital model, 3D scans and the virtual reality application with those of 3D printing, 3P workshops could also be conducted in mixed reality in the future. Individual parts would then be produced immediately via a 3D printer and only slight amounts of resources. This enables the physical testing of individual elements in the virtual space, such as assessing the haptics and weight of the parts. A key step combining the advantages of both worlds. Virtual meetings and collaboration via avatars in the virtual world could increasingly replace foreign assignments and longer business trips. It is already possible today to use the spaces created by the 3D scanner for digital indoor navigation. And the positioning of machines and equipment in the space can be planned down to the centimeter using augmented reality.