The Opel plant in Aspern, Austria, is the first Opel location to commission fully automatic vehicles for longer distances. In doing so, the carmaker relies entirely on Linde's expertise.
A large factory building near Vienna. 900 metres long, 200 metres wide, more than 25 football pitches in total. There is a lot of activity between the production machines. Robots move gear parts precisely to their installation position. In the middle of it all, six fully automatic Linde vehicles have been driving their laps without a driver since July. Almost silently, the devices move their load at a maximum speed of four kilometres per hour, i. e. walking speed, between the warehouse and assembly.
1,600 employees manufacture engine gearboxes for the vehicles of the car giant. In the meantime, every second Opel now drives with a gearbox from this plant, two of which are produced here per minute.
The future of production is digital
The plant management had planned to increase the productivity of the Kanban loops and thus optimize the provision of small parts at the assembly line. At the same time, the plant was to be made future-proof in view of the growing requirements of a networked industry.
The challenge was to integrate autonomous driving into the existing systems,
says Dr. Clemens Fath, Manager Supply Chain & Logistics Opel Wien GmbH. From the very beginning, we have had the feeling that with Linde we are working with the right people who believe in the project together with us and have the competence to implement it.“
Initial talks between Opel and Linde took place in the spring of 2016. The first test vehicle was put into operation in November 2016. Delivery began in mid-July and the official handover took place in October.
Linde's automated vehicles travel completely autonomously to the factory warehouse, where employees load them with the small parts for production. Then the trucks drive back to the assembly line, where employees receive them, unload them, load the empties and send the vehicles back to the warehouse.
Test operation started last summer. But before the time came, the vehicles had to learn how to navigate the huge production hall.
"Each truck has a virtual map of the factory. For this purpose, all routes and the contours of the tracks were recorded beforehand,"explains Katrin Grandl, Head of Material Handling at Opel. In the virtual map, the routes of the loops have been entered so that they can be called up during operation by pressing a button. Next, the logistician must make a safety check before sending the vehicle on tour by pressing the order button.
Safety at work is a top priority
These included evaluation visits with Linde representatives, a risk analysis in advance, tests with fully loaded vehicles and on various ground conditions, new floor stickers on all routes and conversions to existing transport trailers.
Opel Aspern plant
- In operation since 1982
- Approximately 1600 employees (average age 45 years)
- Between 1982 and 2016, 14,770,680 engines were built here.
- The 25-millionth transmission was manufactured in 2017.
- 49 percent of the products are exported to Spain.
- The site is about 600,000 sqm in size.
- Since 1982, more than 2.3 billion euros have been invested in the site.
- In 2010, there were around 0.1 accidents per 200,000 hours worked.
Occupational safety is our top priority. We hope that the new vehicles will provide us with additional safety at work,
explains Dr. Clemens Fath. In August, Opel trained all affected employees in Vienna who work with the new trucks. Employees of Global Supply Chain accompanied each vehicle for two weeks to ensure that no people are endangered. A blue light arrow on the vehicles also warns pedestrians of the approaching vehicle.
Among Opel's plants, the Aspern site is the first to commission automated vehicles for longer distances. Linde's six automatic vehicles, which run their rounds through the factory buildings in everyday production, cover a long distance: in total, they circumnavigate the world more than once a year in their work.