Cloud-based factory automation enters series production at Audi plant

The software-controlled, flexible, and scalable server Edge Cloud 4 Production solution will replace the decentralised control system that relies on high-maintenance industrial PCs; EC4P allows Audi to redeploy the computing power the production line requires to local data processing centres.

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 18 Jul 2023 Views icon2455 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Audi has been testing the local server solution Edge Cloud 4 Production (EC4P), a new method of IT-based factory automation, at its Böllinger Hofe production facility in Germany since July 2022. Starting in July 2023, this paradigm shift in Audi’s shopfloor IT will be used for the first time in series production.

At Böllinger Hofe, a local server cluster will control the worker support systems for two production cycles of the Audi e-tron GT quattro, RS e-tron GT and Audi R8 models. In the future, the software-controlled, flexible, and scalable server solution will replace the decentralised control system that relies on high-maintenance industrial PCs. EC4P allows Audi to redeploy the computing power the production line requires to local data processing centres. In addition to this first application in series production, Audi is simultaneously adapting EC4P for other use cases in the Audi Production Lab (P-Lab).

EC4P uses local servers that act as data processing centres. They can process extensive production-related data with low latency and distribute it to the worker support systems, which indicate to employees which vehicle part to install. This approach eliminates the need for expensive, high-maintenance industrial PCs.

“Our motto is software, not hardware,” said Sven Müller and Philip Saalmann, Head and Co-head of the 20-member EC4P project team. “EC4P enables the quick integration of software and new tools, whether for worker support, bolt control, vehicle diagnostics, predictive maintenance, or energy savings,” explained Muller. Moreover, by eliminating industrial PCs on the line, EC4P mitigates the risk of malware attacks.

Jorg Spindler, Head of Production Planning and Production Technology at Audi, emphasized the opportunities of EC4P: “We want to bring local cloud solutions to production at our plants to take advantage of advances in digital control systems.”

“Our motto is software, not hardware”: Sven Müller and Philip Saalmann, Head and Co-head of the Edge Cloud 4 Production project team.

Series production launch this month

In July 2023, Audi will integrate EC4P into series production following a test run in operation and preliminary testing. “The small-scale series produced at Böllinger Hofe is ideal for testing ECP4’s capacity as a control system and its use in large-scale production,” said Saalmann.

Audi is the first car manufacturer in cycle-dependent production to use a centralized server solution that redeploys computing power. Production cycles 18 and 19 at Böllinger Hofe, during which interior panels are installed and work is done on the underbody, use thin clients capable of power-over-Ethernet. These terminal devices get electrical power via network cables and obtain data through local servers.

By the end of the year, Audi will switch the worker support systems for all 36 cycles to the server-based solution. The architecture of the server clusters is designed to enable rapid scaling of EC4P in large-scale production. “With EC4P, we are merging the fields of automation technology and IT to advance our practical use of the Internet of Things,” said project manager Müller. “This development will also create new employee roles at the interface of production and IT. For example, employees will use new applications to control automation technology. To this end, we are setting up a control team with overarching expertise to supervise and monitor the EC4P system around the clock.” The team will work closely with the line employees.

Starting in July 2023, Audi has integrated Edge Cloud 4 Production into series production following a test run in operation and preliminary testing.

Digital factory transformation as a learning environment

Audi is studying how digital innovations affect the working environment as part of its Automotive Initiative 2025 (AI25) in collaboration with partners, including the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering.

The AI25 takes a holistic approach, giving equal consideration to technology, people, and Audi’s mission of advancing the digitalization of its production activities.

“We work as a team to free up resources for new areas like battery and module production,” said Spindler. “New technologies and collaboration models will require our teams to acquire new skills. For that reason, our employees’ qualifications play an important role. With its longer cycle times, we view the Böllinger Höfe plant as a learning environment to roll out IT-based factory automation at larger sites such as Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm later.”

One of the first use cases is controlling electrical commissioning activities at Audi’s German locations. After EC4P is proven in assembly, a further concrete step will be for the server solution to take over and monitor the programmable logic controller (PLC), which was previously hardware-based, in the automation cells in body construction. The project team is developing and testing the software alongside three manufacturers at the EC4P project house in Ingolstadt.

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