Mercedes-Benz Vans. Intelligent production for the new Sprinter

For the upcoming start of production of the new model of the Sprinter van, Mercedes-Benz Vans brings new connected series-production technologies online. Due to those technologies the variety of variants will increase, the production will be more flexible and more efficient and the employees benefit from the increasing digitisation in production. Between 2017 and 2025, Mercedes-Benz Vans will invest more than 200 million euros in the expansion of intelligent production.

As part of our 'IntelligentProduction@VANS‘ strategy, we are now setting another milestone on the road to the fully connected 'factory of the future‘ for more efficiency and flexibility. We want to realise potentials throughout the entire production process with new technologies such as RFID. Our production operations around the world are to be fully digitised by 2025.

Frank Klein, Head of Operations Mercedes-Benz Vans

RFID technology for even better production processes

For employees in logistics and production, it has been a long-pursued goal: knowing exactly where a particular component is at any given time. The benefits are obvious: This information allows them to respond flexibly to changes in the sequence, such as caused by delays in certain areas, and change plans on short notice. In addition, they always know the current warehouse stock. The quality assurance employees are consequently also always informed whether the right component was installed in the right vehicle. All that is already reality in the Mercedes-Benz Ludwigsfelde plant. In a pilot phase, the so-called RFID technology (radio-frequency identification) is used to track and identify the door mirrors and seats automatically and contactlessly via radio waves.

RFID consequently relieves the employees of routine tasks and thanks to automatic checks fives them peace of mind knowing they installed the right parts.

RFID from supplier to the van customer

The implementation already starts far outside the gates of the Mercedes-Benz plant: at the suppliers. They attach the electronic labels required for RFID – so-called RFID tags – to the components. As a result, the suppliers are the first to benefit from the advantages of the technology in their own logistics and production operations and are able to identify and track parts via radio waves. The labels are computer chips roughly the size of a postage stamp, which can store and send information. To track the components with these transponders, readers are located at key points of the logistics and production operations. The wireless contact is established by radio waves generated by the readers. The waves power the chips and thereby prompt them to send their information. RFID also offers advantages in after-sales, when the vehicle later is in customer hands. It allows service employees to use information stored in databases to retrace which parts are installed with the greatest of ease.

New IT architecture for global data networking

For about a year now, the second generation of the AGVs has already been operating in the Mercedes-Benz Ludwigsfelde plant.

New digital systems such as AGVs or the parts connectivity via RFID require a highly effective IT infrastructure. A lot of data must be acquired, processed and provided to other areas in real time. For example, the RFID data are sent to Equipment Monitoring, Production Control, Quality Inspection, and Parts Scheduling. Experts from Mercedes-Benz Vans have now developed a completely revised IT architecture together with partners. The central element is a "data highway", which all systems can access at the same time. In addition, the different IT platforms of the plants worldwide will be harmonised to ensure a global exchange can take place. Furthermore, the architecture makes it possible to quickly add new digital applications – just as the 'app' principle of smartphones. This means that once the RFID pilot project is completed successfully, other plants will be able to use the finished software immediately. Mercedes-Benz Vans will gradually roll out the new IT architecture globally starting next year.

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