source: Audi AG
- A8 L Horch production: Innovation for the Chinese market
For nearly 30 years, Neckarsulm and the Audi A8 have been inseparable. Now an exclusive version for the Chinese market is being built there. Here’s an overview of the production of the longest series-production Audi of all time – from the construction of its body to its journey to China.
It’s not only the interior and the special two-tone paint job that distinguish the exclusive Audi model for the Chinese market, but also its unique body. At 5.45 meters long, the Audi A8 L Horch measures in at 13 centimeters longer than the Audi A8 L available in Europe. Since the production of this special variant can’t be carried out in the existing facilities, Audi employees sought out – and found – innovative solutions. Every A8 car body is made from up to 380 individual components – more than any of the brand’s other vehicles. “With the A8, we have a mixture of aluminum and steels, but also carbon and magnesium. The right material in the right place,” said Hellmuth Sonnenfeld, a specialist project leader in the car body construction plant. A total of 530 industrial robots are put to use in the A8 car body construction plant at Audi’s Neckarsulm location. First, the platforms for all A8s, including front and rear sections, are finished in a 600-square-meter assembly hall. Then all the platforms designated for the A8 L Horch format are separated and extended across six stations on a bypass line – that is, parallel to the normal assembly line. All the platforms eventually reunite on the line, then the car bodies are mounted and finished.
This demands the highest quality standards. In addition to ultrasound tests on the line and visual controls by experienced employees, there’s also an augmented-reality solution to simplify work and optimize precision in randomized testing. There are around 6,000 connection points on every car body that the employees quickly and easily check with this technology. In the end, the perfect body of an Audi A8 L Horch emerges – ready for its next stop: the paint shop.
Precision to the millimeter: 35 hours of additional manual labor in the paint shop
In the paint shop, everything revolves around handiwork, precision and the most elaborate two-tone paint job in the history of Audi. After all, demands for such a premium-class vehicle are high – its look and finish have to be immaculate.
To be able to paint the A8 L Horch with the current production facilities, the existing conveyor system was extended several kilometers and was equipped with highly complex safety technology. Another challenge was the desire on the Chinese market for a two-tone paint job for the A8 L Horch. This was impossible to do with the series-production facilities. The solution was the sports car finish center. There are 35 hours of additional manual labor in every A8 L Horch with a two-tone paint job.
“I’ve been at Audi for 27 years, but we’ve never had a project this exceptional,” said Ogün Kardes, who’s responsible for process assurance in the paint shop at the Neckarsulm location.
A8 L Horch paint job: Handiwork in perfection
This taping process requires finesse. On the inside edges of the doors, the second paint color is applied by hand with an airbrush, while the series-production facilities handle the exterior parts of the car body.
After the second coat of paint and the exterior coat of clear lacquer are dry, it’s deburred by hand. This sounds technical, and it’s a delicate matter. Where the two paint colors meet, the employees use practiced hand movements to make the edges as smooth as possible. The result is that the transition between the two colors is completely unnoticeable – perfect craftsmanship.
Finesse required: Assembly of the A8 L Horch
The freshly painted Audi A8 L Horch now makes its way to assembly. Precision work is required here as well. At the first production stations, employees used practiced hand movements to attach the Horch badges with the prominent crown on the left and right fenders.
Installing the rear panorama roof is a particular challenge. Due to its extra size, human-robot collaboration is required – the only one in all A8 assembly. The robot for this came from Ingolstadt. It was freed up for a new task thanks to renovations on the assembly lines there. With the help of this robot, the employees can precisely fasten and adhere the large glass roof. A total of 18 additional work steps are required for this.
Transport to China: The journey of the Audi A8 L Horch
After assembly, the top-end model heads to the Chinese market. Employees locate the A8 L Horches to be shipped with so-called RFID gates (radio frequency identification). This tells the system where in the Neckarsulm plant the vehicles are waiting to be shipped by train.
The subsequent train trip to Bremerhaven is carbon-neutral. There, the exclusive top-end models are loaded onto a ship. The trip from Neckarsulm to one of three major Chinese ports – Shanghai, Tianjin or Guangzhou – takes four to six weeks.
Work to be proud of
At each port, Audi employees receive the vehicles and check their integrity once more. As the coordinator in the Quality Assurance department, Bo Feng is responsible for ensuring proper procedure at all three Chinese ports. He’s also responsible for the cars being handed over to the dealers in perfect condition. “The work isn’t just fun, it also makes me very proud. After all, Audi A8 L Horch customers have especially high demands – and we’re the last Audi employees to ensure that every vehicle lives up to these demands,” Feng said.
Top-end Audi A8 L Horch: “A very special vehicle”
“The A8 L Horch is definitely a very special vehicle,” Feng said. And so, having been perfectly inspected, the cars embark on the last stage of their journeys via truck – to the Chinese dealerships where the customers receive their new Audi A8 L Horches – the top-end model for the Chinese market, built in Neckarsulm.