Mercedes’ Rastatt factory is built on what would be nearly 275 football fields put together. That probably explains how the plant produced about two lakh cars last year; a number that should rise this year considering that Mercedes has moved to three shifts a day to keep up with demand.
Anyway, just the sight of robotic arms moving around with such speed and precision is awe-inspiring. It was amazing to see how well these robots had been programmed to position the various components into place just at the right time so that the workers could bolt them on without even having to look twice if the right stuff had arrived and if it was positioned correctly. And the workers themselves were super skilled. Things like wiring harnesses weighing over 30kg were effortlessly put together by them in hardly any time.
The whole place was a major flurry of activity and there was something interesting to see in every direction. What really made an impression was that every worker has just a few minutes to finish his particular task on the car because the conveyor was constantly moving. Of course, the speed is calculated so that it is comfortable for the workers, but unlike you and me these guys can’t take a break for coffee whenever they feel like; they’re always on a schedule.
We were watching the A-Class being put together. Given that the car offers plenty of individual customisation options from seat trims to dashboard materials to the wheels and more, it requires some planning to ensure the right coloured and textured seat arrives for the car in the right colour and with the right equipment levels. In an idyllic display of clinical German efficiency every single personalised component arrives via different conveyors at exactly the right time in exactly the right order for each car.
The treat of the day though, is watching the two robotic arms working together to attach the windscreen to the body shell. One of them scanned the exact dimensions of the body shell arriving on the conveyor while the other picked up a windscreen from a stack using suction cups. It then swivelled over to another machine to get a clean line of glue run across the edges of the windscreen. The arm then swung back over to the car and hovered just above the body shell for a few seconds to make sure the positioning was perfect before firmly pressing the windscreen into the body shell. A few seconds later the process was complete and the next body shell moved into place.
The way man and machine work in perfect sync with the machines executing every single task with unerring efficiency will blow your mind!