Digital factory uses virtual reality to track car production

A key part of any manufacturing process is ensuring there are no bottlenecks in production and understanding the impact that a...

A key part of any manufacturing process is ensuring there are no bottlenecks in production and understanding the impact that a single failure might have on the overall process.

Car manufacturer DaimlerChrysler has developed a digital factory that can map production flows and assess the impact of problems before the design of a product has been finalised. The method has produced significant savings.

The company has been using simulation software and virtual reality to examine variants more quickly and effectively to make decisions with a higher degree of certainty.

Susan Unger, CIO at DaimlerChrysler, said, "We are piloting a digital plant. As the engineers and designers are developing new products, the digital plant is simulating production."

This approach allows DaimlerChrysler to assess whether its manufacturing processes would be able to support the new product once it has been developed. "We estimate the digital plant is saving us 30% in terms of time to production," said Unger.

The digital factory allows the production-planning department to begin its work earlier in the process. Teams are organised in a project-oriented, interdepartmental fashion at DaimlerChrysler's two Mercedes-Benz Technology Centre locations. The teams comprise staff from development, production, sales, procurement, research and external suppliers.

DaimlerChrysler said all of the development activities for the vehicle and its components are recorded digitally and stored in a central database accessible by employees. This creates transparency and ensures that everyone involved is up-to-date on the development process.

The company has now established a structured approach to product development, supported by software tools designed to measure and evaluate how far the product and the process have advanced during key development periods throughout the product creation process.

Unger has been looking at how she can take templates developed regionally to roll out in other countries. One such template, developed in conjunction with SAP, has allowed DaimlerChrysler to put in place the IT operations for its Malaysian operations in four months - it would have taken 12 months previously.

She said, "We have developed an engineering portal to allow engineers in Asia and Europe to collaborate."

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