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Waltl says the traditional assembly line will stay, but it may not always be used (Photo: Claus Dick)

Digitalization is not just changing the car; it is changing every aspect of the car-making industry as well. Hubert Waltl, who has headed production at Audi since April 1, 2014, recently discussed the digitally driven changes in car manufacturing at Audi and elsewhere in the industry. "We are willing to go new ways in production" if the circumstances call for it, Waltl said in an interview with automotiveIT. Excerpts of the interview are below.

automotiveIT: Mr Waltl, please outline for us how car manufacturing will change in coming years.

Waltl: Because of the large number of intelligent and networked systems, the car is more and more turning into a moving communication center. In the premium segment, the complexity of manufacturing processes will increase and change car production. Today already, we have to process a multitude of different materials, including, for example, high-tensile steel and carbon-reinforced composites. And we're seeing that, in future, we won't be able to manage the diverse and ever more individualized products that we offer our customers with the classic assembly line configuration.

Does that mean the end of the assembly line as we know it?

No. Volume models such as the Audi A3 will continue to require efficient and highly automated production processes. But for derivatives and small series, new manufacturing concepts may be in order. Take our plant in Heilbronn, Germany, which we opened in October 2014. It's only 6 kilometers from our main plant in Neckarsulm. In Heilbronn we build the Audi R8 with cycle times of 40 minutes. Driverless transport systems have taken the place of the assembly line and are bringing the car bodies to the various assembly points. The production area can, therefore, be used in an efficient and flexible manner. This shows we are willing to go new ways in production if the parameters fit.

Digitalization is changing the car, but how are digital technologies affecting production?

The trend is clearly moving in the direction of intelligent assistance systems and piloted driving. That implies a high degree of actuator and sensor technologies and connectivity in the car. Every new Audi has to be capable of communicating with the driver, the environment, other cars and infrastructure systems. To meet this kind of product demand, we also have to more strongly digitize our manufacturing.

(The full interview with Hubert Waltl will be available on automotiveIT.com and in the automotiveIT international magazine soon)

Interview: Werner Beutnagel and Ralf Bretting