Car manufacturers make so many cars that you could easily get lost in their factories. In fact, even employees of those factories get confused sometimes. But now Audi has a solution – a specially developed drone system is now used to locate vehicles that are ready for dispatch at the Neckarsulm site.
Hexacopter uses GPS and RFID technology to mark the location of each finished vehicle. Image credit: Audi
Audi makes all kinds of cars in its Neckarsulm plant – A4, A5, A6, A7, A8 and even R8. It’s a pretty big industrial operation going on there. Once assembly is finished, brand new cars are parked in designated areas around the plant. As you may imagine, there are thousands of cars there and it is quite tricky to find vehicles that have to be dispatched to a particular location to reach their new owners. This requires quite a bit of planning. But now thanks to a new drone system it should be much easier.
Every new car has an RFID chip installed somewhere in the body. This device allows for easier electronic identification of each vehicle. And this is how the drone system works.
A specially developed hexacopter (a drone with six propellers) takes off, flies over the parking lot and identifies position of each vehicle. This flying robot autonomously marks position of each car in a GPS map. Once it lands, data is transmitted via Wi-Fi and employees can see the results on a screen. This helps planning logistics operations, designed to ship out finished vehicles all over the world.
Interestingly, the drone flies autonomously – it can take off and fly completely by itself, even though employees are monitoring its operations. Of course, a human pilot can intervene if the drone starts misbehaving. But it is actually pretty reliable – it even takes weather conditions into account and won’t fly if it’s too windy or raining. Drones are designed to protect themselves and cars and will not operate if conditions are not suitable for safe flying.
Drone can be controlled by a pilot, but it usually works autonomously. Image credit: Audi
Currently drones are still being tested at the Neckarsulm site. Due to a large number of different models produced in this plant, it is one of the most complex places logistically in Volkswagen Group’s industrial setting. Once drones are brought up to speed and some minor flaws are fixed, the same system will be implemented in other Group’s factories as well. We can imagine that some other factories might be interested in it as well.
Car factories are incredibly complex not just because of assembly and manufacturing processes, but also because of logistics. Parts and materials need to come and finished vehicles need to leave. That is why car factories typically belong to strong logistical networks, compromising railways, roads and sometimes even ports.