Audi’s shopfloor goes digital

Audi’s shopfloor goes digital

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

Audi is using virtual PLC technology from Siemens combined with data centre architectures for its latest automotive manufacturing lines.

Factory floors are no longer just about rows of machines and assembly lines, and Audi is rolling out virtual PLC technology from Siemens. Intelligent ecosystems are using the latest digital technologies to boost efficiency, reduce costs and open up new approaches.

In Ingolstadt, Germany, Audi is aiming for a stable and consistently available production facility, but has challenges many different devices are being used. To adapt production to the increasing demand, more hardware devices have to be purchased. However, delivery periods are becoming longer and in many cases, updates can only be installed manually, and maintenance is extremely costly, but both are necessary to guarantee cybersecurity.

Power consumption is also high. The greater the number of hardware devices in use, the more power is required, reducing a plant’s energy efficiency.

Audi’s software infrastructure, Edge Cloud 4 Production, draws inspiration from data centres using SIMATIC S7-1500V virtual programmable logic controllers (PLCs) from Siemens.

“The virtual PLC represents a revolution in automation engineering and industry, making it possible to totally rethink a factory and its infrastructure,” said Sven Müller, Project Manager, Edge Cloud 4 Production at AUDI.

The move to a digital infrastructure started in 2019 when the goal was to transform the vision of the virtualized shop floor into a concept. Software-driven factory automation is only feasible with a corresponding controller solution and Audi needed a virtual PLC compatible with its new Edge Cloud 4 Production platform that could be seamlessly integrated into the existing automation environment.

The virtual PLC was officially introduced in the spring of 2023. At that time, Audi was already starting to convert its first assembly plant to Edge Cloud 4 Production – the basis for the initial deployment of the virtual PLC. The cloud finally went live in July 2023.

After initial considerations of how IT-based production should be designed, it quickly became clear that a large-scale concept was required. However, it took about three years to evaluate its feasibility and perform the associated tests. This period was necessary for defining requirements, testing conditions, and talking to the manufacturers of the necessary components. The technologies also had to be modified: for example, to establish the real-time capability of the lower-level infrastructure.

Since January 2024, two virtual PLCs have been successfully deployed on the Audi e-tron GT axle assembly line in Audi’s Böllinger Höfe factory at Neckarsulm.

Deploying the virtual PLC as software means no more waiting for hardware deliveries. New instances can be downloaded, updates and new apps can be rolled out plant-wide with just a few clicks.

The virtual PLC approach allows Audi employees continue using familiar interfaces and functions, ensuring an easy transition despite the significant tech upgrade. The unified infrastructure streamlines the digital management and enhance the cybersecurity of both central and remote operations.

“Naturally, employees were initially skeptical and expressed reservations. This was our motivation for making the rollout planning for the overall project as detailed and predictable as possible,” said Robin Fallmann Audi, Production Planning Automation Engineering at Audi.

The initial commissioning was only the beginning. Over the next few years, both the virtual controller and the cloud-based infrastructure continue to be developed, tested, and rolled out.;


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