Day 5: Bigger Than Some Countries?!

Today was one of the earliest days of the program, yet I was probably the most refreshed I ever would be. Travel to Audi was very lengthy, clocking in at almost 2 hours. Since I wasn’t too tired, I decided to work on my blogs and admire the German scenery. I was very fascinated with the landscape and agricultural distribution, as much of the land was just plain greenery, such as grass. I expected there to be agriculture everywhere there was available space, as Germany was a geographically small, but very populated, country. Instead, what I saw was solar farms spaced sporadically, and fields of yellow vegetation that also seemed quite random. I’m no expert on farming, but I do recall learning that using a piece of land to grow food around the year often wears it down, so maybe the Germans were just being cognizant of their nature? Between these thoughts and tidying up my blogs from the previous days, we were at the AUDI facility in no time.

My first thought, was wow. It was large, it was clean, it was modern, and it was impressive. Above are pictures showing how spacious the facility was, how aesthetic the buildings were, and how organized the plant was. Depicted above, is the Audi Museum, and the appearance of the plant from where we entered. Unfortunately, here is where my pictures end because our devices were locked up in lockers before we could start our lectures/tours.

We entered a stage room with a few different, high-end Audi models all ranging a hundred thousand euros or more. No one told us we couldn’t get touchy with the cars, so soon our entire program was sampling how each one felt, sitting in the drivers seat, acting cool, etc. Soon the head of our tour ushered us into a small theatre-like room where she played some amazing introduction videos that gave us an overview of the company and the plant we were at. Immediately after, we hopped on a bus and traveled quite a bit of distance to the part of the plant that was responsible for frame assembly of the car. The bus was quite necessary, as we were told this factory, the largest Audi factory in the world, was larger than some countries, coming in at nearly 3 million meters squared. As we stepped into the factory, I knew I was in for a treat. Nothing I’d ever seen in my life compared to how technologically impressive the plant was.

The frame fabrication facility was almost completely automated, with robotic arms that were meters tall and wide, whizzing with incredibly impressive speeds, and completing tasks with unbelievable precision. We were told the margin of error was around 3 micrometers, a figure that stuck with me because of how incredibly small that is. I started thinking about the amount of coding that programming a machine like that would require, with calibration of sensors and hundreds of measurements to take every second. And how much coding the entire facility, that had assembly lines greater than a kilometer in linear length, took (one of my majors is electrical/computer engineering so I’m a little biased here). I just walked through the facility amazed at the technological prowess Audi had to create such a magnificent engineering marvel. Soon, I started thinking about the energy consumption of all these large machines, especially since the plant operated 24/6. I asked the tour guide, and she informed me that they had an annual energy consumption of about 2.5 GWh. To put that in perspective, that’s about 1,300 times the annual energy consumption of Pittsburgh. I’m not used to working with numbers this large and I could do nothing else but appreciate them.

Soon we moved to another facility, where final assembly of the car was taking place. Over here, the assembly lines started with a painted frame, and all the components from suppliers had to be assembled together. The lines in the facility were “several kilometers” long, but they looped around each other, so the whole facility was onlyyy a little more than a kilometer long. I’m going to be honest, I knew factories were big, but I didn’t think they could possibly be this large. The amount of technology, labor, and management necessary just didn’t seem feasible. This got me thinking of my next biggest engineering topic: data. Since 80% of the work was done by humans/laborers in this facility (quite a stark contrast to the framing and painting), and since all different models were being produced on the same line (different colors and models), the amount of coordination it took was mind numbing. A single mistake would literally cause the entire facility to stop operating. Additionally, the average of hundreds of measurements taken per second had to be stored in a sort of manufacturing “black box” in case anything went wrong. This made me appreciate factories, such as Audi’s, so much more, since there were so many components they had to have that I didn’t realize: their own energy grids, data networks, community infrastructures, and so much more. As a cherry on the top, we ended the tour by walking down a set of steps… and appearing exactly where we left off. I was amazed and thoroughly impressed with all the technology and engineering I saw on this tour.

We took a little break to visit the Audi Museum and get some food. The cafeteria was really impressive, with a wide range of selections and really affordable prices (compared to the US). I tried some Bavarian food and of course, got a pretzel. We speedily ate through our food, so we could visit the Museum, which was really impressive. It was fascinating to walk through the different ages of cars the company produced, and to see how drastically different both the aesthetics and technology were. There were little stations in each section showing how key features we take for granted, such as air bags and suspensions, evolved over time to give us the safety and comfort we enjoy now. We also visited the gift shop, where I got a nice weighted metallic pen with an ink barrel that supports my favorite gel cartridges. It’ll be a nice addition to my writing utensils, which I’m rather selective about.

When time was up, we had to charge from the museum to the “meetings” building in the pouring rain. Ok, it was drizzling, but I was still annoyed because my umbrella was on the bus, so so close but too far away. The building we entered seemed like a dedicated space for Audi representatives to meet with companies and organizations. It was really professional and neat. It was here that we had our lecture by one of Dr. Feick’s longterm friends and colleagues. We were given an impressive overview of the company and learnt a lot about the current placement of companies in the automative industry, on a scale of progressive and premium, and the changes that are anticipated in the future. After detailing their plans for the future, much of the time was dedicated to questions from our group. Most people asked about the e-tron, which is Audi’s flagship electric car and part of the push to make 1/3 of their fleet electric by 2030. More detailed notes on the lecture can be found attached below, I don’t want to bore you with the academic details (that I personally found intriguing, but oh well).

Overall, our visit to Audi really reinforced the concept of kaizen, the idea of continuous improvement. The factory was as close to perfection as I had ever seen, and they were still making improvements. I’m really excited to see what the company will achieve in the future, and what the rest of the company visits will bring.

When we got back to Augsburg, Jeff and I visited a grocery store and got some German beverages, snacks, candy, and ice cream. We didn’t realize that one of the beverages we got was a nutritional vitamin drink since the whole bottle was in German. Let me tell you, it tasted as good as it sounds healthy (so not great). Regardless, we went to dinner at Vapi’s with some of the program and not having any dessert, came back and had some of our Rocky Road ice cream. Later on, we met up with some of the German students on Maximillian Strasse, where they took us to some of their favorite places. Since it was Jeff’s company visit tomorrow, we didn’t stay out too late. Quite satisfied with the day, I curled up with my adorable pillow pet, excited for tomorrow. That’s where today ends, but I’ll see you tomorrow! 🙂

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