The philosophy: The next stage in the industrial revolution

The automobile industry is facing fundamental changes. Alongside the electrification of the powertrain, autonomous driving and the development of new markets, it is above all digitalisation that is driving this process of change. This combination of the physical and digital is often referred to as "Industrie 4.0". Networking the entire value chain in real time is already more than just a vision for Mercedes-Benz. And the focus here is always on people – customers and employees.
"At Mercedes-Benz, we use the term 'Industrie 4.0' to describe the digitalisation of the entire value chain, from design and development to production, where the term has its origin, and finally to sales and service," says Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, Daimler AG. "For us at Daimler, there is no question that the digital revolution will fundamentally change our industry. This applies to the methods by which we develop, plan and produce our vehicles. It applies to the way we make contact with our customers. And not least, it can be experienced through our products themselves."
The potential of the digital revolution is huge: If man, machine and industrial processes are intelligently networked, individual products of high quality can be created more rapidly, and production and manufacturing costs can be made competitive. Flexibility is another reason why Mercedes-Benz is actively helping to shape the digital revolution: The worldwide demand for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and mobility concepts is increasing. At the same time, the requirements of customers around the globe are becoming increasing diverse. While Mercedes-Benz was able to cover most customer requirements with just three basic models in the 1970s, there are now ten times as many. The configuration options have also increased enormously. At the Sindelfingen plant, for example, it is extremely rare for two identical examples of the S-Class to leave the production lines. There is also an increasingly wide range of drive variants – alongside petrol and diesel engines, hybrid and fully electric drive systems are increasingly popular. And the innovation cycles are increasingly shorter. All this culminates in the vision that automobile production will change from large-scale to "one-off" production, where every car is built to individual customer requirements.
This means that production must become increasingly flexible and efficient. The aim is the "smart factory", which is characterised by the ability to change, efficient use of resources and ergonomics, as well as the integration of customers and commercial partners into business and value-creation processes. More details on this can be found in the relevant section of this press kit.
The TecFactory: From the vision to the road
Every Mercedes-Benz is a highly innovative product manufactured with maximum precision. If it were a one-off production, it would be worth several million euros. The vehicle development and production teams in the TecFactory, part of Mercedes-Benz Cars Operations (MO), work very closely together to ensure efficient series production of the highest quality. This is where the progressive ideas and innovations inherent in every Mercedes-Benz are transformed from vision into reality.
The principal location of the Technology Factory is Sindelfingen, but the unit also has a presence at other Mercedes-Benz production locations in Germany and abroad. The TecFactory is the central point of reference for partners in planning, vehicle development and product strategy for production and product concepts, and verifies their level of maturity. The TecFactory is the competence centre for outsourced parts, tools, production systems, the start-up factory and the press shop. In this role, the TecFactory is not only a driver of future-oriented production technologies; it also develops holistic factory concepts for the customised manufacture of Mercedes-Benz series-production vehicles worldwide.
Robot Farming: flexible use of robots
Robots are already to be found everywhere in automobile production - especially where tasks would be particularly stressful or even ergonomically harmful for people. Assembly operations are usually performed nowadays by employees or by robots. For safety reasons, the latter are always behind protective fencing.
This is set to change. In future, people and robots will cooperate with each other directly, without fencing. This huHuman-Robot cooperation enables the best possible combination between the cognitive superiority and flexibility of man and the strength, endurance and dependability of robots. Not only does this improve quality, it also leads to considerable increases in productivity. At the same time, it opens up new possibilities in respect of ergonomic, age-compatible working conditions.
"Robot Farming" is an industrial application of cooperation between people and robots. A single employee is in charge of one or more robots and uses them flexibly at various workstations, working with them in a common area without fencing. In 2014, Mercedes-Benz Cars received an award for the trailblazing "Robot Farming" production concept at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Hong Kong.
"Digital prototyping" at the start of the development process
Industrial processes are linked to each other in real time along the entire value chain. The real and virtual worlds increasingly become one – creating cyber-physical systems. This networking of the entire value chain means that Industrie 4.0 is more than just a matter of production. Mercedes-Benz also has a pioneering role in other areas. For example in "digital prototyping". In 2007, the predecessor to the current C-Class was the world's first series-production car to be conceived and developed entirely on the basis of a digital prototype (DPT). Mercedes-Benz uses this process to consolidate all computational methodologies and create a complete virtual image of the car.
Indeed, the designers use the virtual world at an even earlier stage of the development process: They use a "power wall" and "CAVE" (Computer Aided Virtual Environment) for realistic, three-dimensional projections of the car, making it straightforward to compare, assess and modify different design ideas. Digitalisation therefore also multiplies the creative possibilities.
From purely an automobile manufacturer to a networked provider of mobility services
The revolution is fully underway: With over one million users, the mobility service car2go is the world's largest car-sharing business. The moovel app shows users how a wide variety of means of transport can be combined to get from A to B efficiently – whether by car2go, ride-sharing, taxi or by public transport. Mercedes-Benz has consolidated all these services under one sub-brand – Mercedes me, which makes Mercedes-Benz reachable at any time. The portfolio extends from booking a service appointment to individual networking with the customer's own vehicle and personally configured financial services. Customers are also offered packages that go well beyond the car itself, e.g. lifestyle activities and entertainment.
The car is being increasingly networked with its surroundings – opening up fascinating possibilities. It has now become almost standard for smartphones to be seamlessly integrated into cars. And the networking process does not stop there: cameras, ultrasonic and radar sensors constantly keep an eye on the surroundings, and are even able to predict where other road users will move. Today's cars can warn us if we become drowsy while driving or if there is insufficient distance to the vehicle in front. And it is no secret where all of this is heading – autonomous driving.
More about the digitalisation of the automobile can be found in the section "Digitalisation of the next E-Class".
The story so far – Industrie 1.0 to 3.0
Industrie 4.0 is the next stage in the industrial revolution. Mechanisation, electrification and further automation using information technology (IT) are now being followed by digitalisation.
Here is an overview of the earlier revolutionary stages:
  • Industrie 1.0: The first industrial revolution began in Europe in the second half of the 18th Century and initiated the transition from an agrarian economy to the division of labour and mass production. The textiles industry in England was the pioneer. Inventions such as the Spinning Jenny by James Hargreaves (1764) or the mechanical loom by Edmund Cartwright (1784) ensured that machines would increasingly replace human labour. Large factories equipped with these new machines made it possible to produce textiles far more rapidly and cheaply than with hand-operated spinning-wheels and weaving looms. Aside from the mechanisation of production, this phase was also marked by the increasing use of steam engines (invented in 1769 by James Watt) to replace human muscle and watermills as a source of power.
  • Industrie 2.0: The second industrial revolution began worldwide in around 1860. Inventions such as the dynamo by Werner von Siemens (1866) ushered in this stage. Electrical energy allowed further rationalisation of production processes, with a further division of labour. The first conveyor belt entered service in the slaughterhouses of Cincinnati/USA in around 1870. Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz paved the way for individual mobility, with the first high-speed four-stroke petrol engine (1883) and the "Benz Patent Motor Wagon" (1886), acknowledged as the world's first automobile. In 1913, Henry Ford put the automobile industry's first "moving assembly line" into operation in Detroit. In 1928, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) switched the press shop in Sindelfingen from individual, manual production to series production using deep drawing presses. In the mid-1930s, plant director Wilhelm Friedle introduced production-line assembly at the Sindelfingen plant.
  • Industrie 3.0: The third industrial revolution began in the 1960s and 1970s. Computer technology and microelectronics brought about new changes. In 1961, General Motors used the first robot in the automobile industry. The "Unimate" had an arm weighing around two tons for handling hot die-cast components. In 1972, Mercedes-Benz was one of the first manufacturers in Europe to use a numerically controlled robot to weld the side walls of the S-Class. The programmable logic controller invented by Richard Morley (1969) was a further important development. This revolutionised the control of industrial systems. Apart from the automation of production, other characteristics of the third industrial revolution were the increasing internationalisation of business relationships and a structural change towards the service sector.
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