"Most of the work is done here
KWD Wolfsburg takes over production of vehicle components from Volkswagen
East of Wolfsburg, only a few minutes by car from the city centre, lies the industrial area Vogelsang. On May 1, 2018, KWD acquired a production plant from VW that produces metal parts for the VW Golf, Touran and Tiguan models. A visit to a fully automated production plant.
In total, we will meet no more than twenty employees in the 17,000 square metre hall. The focus here is clearly on the machines. Randy Koch, Business Unit Manager at KWD, laughs as he leads us into the almost deserted hall: "The robots do most of the work here. We control the systems, equip them, ensure that everything runs smoothly and ensure that the quality is right."
Around twenty robots work in each of the five to thirty-meter long enclosed areas, some of them up to four meters high. Some glide back and forth on rails, others are stationary. It produces front flaps for the Volkswagen Tiguan and Touran as well as front and rear ground segments for the Golf, especially the E-Golf and the plug-in hybrid. In addition, the first system of the B-pillar for the new Golf 8 has just started work, from which parts are also produced automatically.
Highest demands on the outer skin
We're between two of the facilities. The front flaps for the Touran are produced on the left and for the Tiguan on the right. Illuminated displays above each system show the current status of the system. "We have a daily output of 1,500 to 1,600 units per line," says Koch. "And for this we only need a few employees per shift: four workers, two plant operators, maintenance staff and quality assurance staff.
The front flaps consist of an inner and an outer plate. We watch a forklift driver set them in the system. The robots do the rest. Then why so many employees in the first place?
"The front flaps are part of the outer skin of the vehicle," Koch explains. "And special demands are made on it, because it is what an end customer sees first. If there are even the slightest unevenness in the paint, it is immediately noticeable."
That is why the parts are thoroughly checked before and after processing. First in incoming goods, then before processing on the accuracy of fit of inner and outer part. In addition, indispensable checks are carried out to ensure that the correct gap dimensions and curvature are maintained. This is done several times per shift on a random basis. "We have additionally hired a measurement technician for each shift," says Koch.
Folding and 2K-gluing
In the systems, the two blanks, i.e. the inner and outer sheets, are placed one inside the other and joined together in a complex process. The first step is folding. First, the 2-component adhesive is applied to the area to be folded. Then some prominent points are pre-folded before the actual folding process takes place in the "folding bed". In addition, welding spots are set as support. The flap is then placed in a so-called gelling bed to harden.
"Folding and two-component gluing were new territory for us," says Koch. "That's why we sent our plant operators and other colleagues to Volkswagen's ongoing production one month before production started; they then looked over the shoulders of the Volkswagen colleagues and acquired the necessary specialist knowledge. For folding we booked external specialists for the first month until our people have mastered the basics."
So prepared, the switch between Volkswagen and KWD took place on May 1, 2018.
Up to 16 individual parts in one device
On two further systems, the front and rear bottoms, especially for the E-Golf, are welded from individual parts. The individual components are placed in specially manufactured fixtures, up to 16 pieces per fixture. These are then taken over by the robots and welded together. The robots need just over eight minutes for a floor. Fascinated we watch as one of them, who has just welded, cleans and deposits the welding gun and instead picks up a gripper with which he transports a floor further.
A total of around 40 employees work in production, nine each in maintenance and quality assurance and 20 in logistics, who are responsible for adjusting and removing the parts from the systems and loading them onto trucks and trains. Production takes place in three shifts and, depending on Volkswagen production times, also on weekends.