FTS Betreuer Thomas Neininger in der Produktionshalle mit FTS und Tablet

The first of his kind

That’s how a supervisor for Driverless Transport Systems works

A taxi central at the core of the A8 assembly: That’s were Thomas Neininger works. As the first supervisor for Driverless Transport Systems in the VW Group, he monitors autonomously driving transport vehicles that deliver building components. During a visit, Audi blog author Lisa Först found out how his everyday work life looks like.

Fahrerloses Transportsystem mit aufgeladenen Kisten
The taxi fleet is a regular customer in the A8 supermarket: Logistic staff put together shopping baskets for production of the flagship that are then picked up by the Driverless Transport Systems and taken to the respective receivers.

Neckarsulm, Monday, 7 am. The supermarket is packed with people. As employees are filling shopping carts for their customers, robot taxis approach silently and load baskets. Electrically driven and fully autonomous, they make their way through the roads and deliver their freight directly to the recipient. In the middle of it all stands Thomas Neininger, who watches over the situation equipped with a tablet and radio. He ensures that his taxi fleet functions reliably and smoothly.

The supermarket served by Neininger’s autonomous taxi fleet is not just any discounter: It’s the supermarket for the new Audi A8. Here in hall A11 at the Neckarsulm production plant, logistics staff put together shopping baskets for the flagship.

A glimpse into the everyday work life of a supervisor for DTS

The baskets are filled with sun visors, airbags, steering wheels, to name a few – and even with refrigerators for the luxury limousine. Components delivered to the assembly line shortly before installation. Just in time and matching the respective model.

Thomas Neininger’s work is just as unusual as the supermarket. He is the Driverless Transport System (DTS) supervisor at Audi in Neckarsulm. And thus, the first of a kind in the entire Volkswagen Group. Since October 2016, Neininger has been managing a state-of-the-art fleet consisting of 30 Automated Guided Vehicles – AGV for short – and the associated fleet manager: Intelligent software that places driving orders to the AGV via Wi-Fi. The fleet manager automatically sends each vehicle to the point closest to it. Together, the AGV and the fleet manager form the Driverless Transport System.

A taxi center in the heart of the A8 assembly

“Our intelligent AGV can be imagined as a taxi center in the middle of the production hall,” Neininger says, while pointing to the screen on his desk. Here, in the heart of the Audi A8 assembly, he can observe the fleet’s exact location on the road and its current condition is: If the vehicles on the screen are green, everything is fine. A yellow AGV needs to recharge its batteries soon and will automatically be sent to the charging mat by the fleet manager.

If an AGV turns red on the screen, there is a fault present. “For me, this means: Go to the vehicle and fix the problem as soon as possible,” Neininger says. “Each vehicle has its own IP address through that I’m able to connect to the device.”

In the field for the Audi A8: The DTS move throughout the entire A8 assembly and deliver different components, such as sun visors or steering wheels, to the assembly point that needs the different components.

New tasks under the banner of Industry 4.0

The DTS supervisor at the Neckarsulm has created a new area of responsibility under the banner of Industry 4.0. “It is important for the company that the DTS in the A8 assembly don’t replace existing workstations but take on additional tasks,” project manager Andre Hellinger explains. Together with his colleague Tobias Willhauk, Hellinger accompanied the AGV of the Grenzebach company from the pilot phase in 2016 to series production in 2018. Since the new Audi A8 is even more complex than its predecessor, its assembly produces additional challenges.

Thomas Neininger is the first AGV supervisor in the Volkswagen Group. Together with project manager Andre Hellinger (left), he is working on training material and a course for the qualification of further AGV supervisors.

The DTS now undertakes the strenuous routine work: Each vehicle can lift up to 1.2 tonnes of weight, provide sequence cars on the conveyor belt or exchange empties. On average, the robot taxis cover 170 kilometers in each shift. “The DTS relieves our colleagues in logistics,” Hellinger says. However, with Thomas Neininger as the DTS caregiver, the focus of attention will remain on people, who are the ones to make important decisions and if necessary, intervene at any time.

Monitoring the functionality of the AGV system, coordinating maintenance and repairs for the taxi fleet, entering driving orders, adjusting routes: Neininger appreciates the variety in his new tasks.

How the next generation of DTS supervisors evolves

FTS Transportsystem in Produktionshalle während einer Fahrt
Each driverless transport system (DTS) has its own IP address. If there is a fault, the AGV operator can immediately switch to the affected DTS via tablet in order to resolve it.

“The job as a DTS caregiver is very versatile, I’m constantly learning,” he says. “In my view, this new area of ​​responsibility is a real gain for Audi.” When the offer to evolve from a trained logistician to DTS caregiver supervisor came, he immediately agreed. Neininger has acquired various computer programming skills such as the fleet manager in training courses. Not only does he take care of disturbances of the AGV, he also configures the stations in the fleet manager and can adapt the virtual routes for his taxi fleet at any time, for example if assembly sections change or the A8 supermarket is converted. Neininger also incorporates his practical experience into training material.

Together with a project team around Hellinger and Willhauk, he is working on a training through that more employees can develop their skills further to become AGV supervisors. For him one thing is certain: “I am the first FTS supervisor at Audi, but I most certainly won’t be the last.”

Audi site Neckarsulm
Audi MediaCenter

Neckarsulm

As the biggest company in the prospering Heilbronn-Franken economic region, the Neckarsulm site of AUDI AG is also one of the most attractive employers in Baden-Württemberg. The city of Neckarsulm, named after the two rivers Neckar and Sulm, has approximately 26,000 inhabitants and provides 40,000 jobs. The Heilbronn-Franken region provides more than 387,420 jobs, with the automotive industry playing an important role. With more than 16,955 employees, Audi in Neckarsulm is the region’s biggest employer (as of December 31, 2017).

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Consumption and emission figures of vehicles on this page:

A8: Combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 8.0 – 5.6; Combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 182 – 145. Figures on the fuel consumption and the CO2-emissions vary in case of given ranges depending on the used combination of wheels/tires. // www.audi.de/DAT-Hinweis

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