The Transparent Factory in Dresden, built especially to manufacture Volkswagen’s new premium class, was officially opened on 11 December 2001. This facility is centrally and homogeneously located within the urban landscape of Dresden, a city set on the banks of the Elbe River, making Volkswagen the first manufacturer to realize a production concept which combines the automated processes of classic industrial automobile production with manual work processes. Another unique characteristic of the Factory is the fact that it allows customers to actually view for them-selves the individual steps involved in the making of their new vehicle.
At the end of December 2007, the Automobilmanufaktur Dresden GmbH has a workforce of some 380 employees.
Ingo Heidenreich was appointed plant manager at the Transparent Factory in September 2006. A mechanical engineer by profession, Mr Heidenreich has been with Volkswagen since 1979. He originally joined the company as a quality analysis officer. He was responsible for quality assurance at Volkswagen Brussels from 1992 to 1995, implemented the quality improvement program at Volkswagen of America between 1995 and 1997 and assumed the position as head of quality assurance at the Emden plant in 1999.
The Transparent Factory assembles the Phaeton. Some of the assembly work for the Bentley Continental Flying Spur (otherwise built in Crewe, UK) was added in mid-2005 to support the model start-up in Crewe. This support was terminated as planned at the end of 2006.
The core element of this new assembly concept is a scaled assembly line. The only thing this operation actually has in common with conventional assembly lines is the phasing of individual assembly procedures, meaning that production is sectored into stages such as engine fitting (operation peak) and window fitting. The surface of each of the concentrically designed scaled assembly lines comprises 29 individual segments completely covered in parquet. It is on these segments that the vehicles to be assembled are placed by lifters which feature a large selection of setting options. Given the parquet surface and the clearly structured assortment of assembly parts placed in baskets, the entire set-up resembles a trade workshop more than it does an assembly-line operation.
Vehicle assembly operations at the Transparent Factory are ongoing on two stories. The scaled assembly line is complemented by an electric suspended railway system used to vertically link the two floors with one another on the one hand and, on the other, to add horizontally aligned production processes on each level. This system transports wagons to the other floor and to specific assembly workstations, such as the one at which vehicles are fuelled. This entails whole wagons being conveyed from the upper level through the ceiling of the level below and then lowered by means of a lifter.
With the precision-phasing system, the impeccable cleanliness of production areas, an ideally trained workforce and permanent controls, Volkswagen has achieved the maximum level of manufacturing quality at its Dresden site. The individually phased production processes have been systematically tailored to the people who perform them. The manipulator, for example, is an assistant on navigable rollers with which workers are able to adjust the positioning of large components (e.g. whole dashboards) to the precise setting (i.e. to the last millimeter) required for their installation into the body shell.
Together with the Transparent Factory erected in the centre of the State of Saxony’s capital, a new logistics system was also introduced, allowing specially designed just-in-time goods trams carrying prefabricated components to shuttle back and forth between the logistics centre located in Friedrichstadt on the outskirts of Dresden and the Transparent Factory in the heart of the city by means of the municipal tram lines. Thus, the burden to the city from additional emissions is kept to a minimum. These trams were developed and then built (within a matter of a year) by Schalker Eisenhütten Maschinenfabrik GmbH in Gelsenkirchen specifically for use in Dresden. At a cost of around 1.8 million euros, each of the two trams (with a travel speed of 50 km/h) makes just-in-time material deliveries to the doorstep of the underground logistics level at the Factory. The body shells manufactured at Volkswagen’s Mosel plant are shipped by lorry to the Transparent Factory, where they are temporarily stored behind the glass facade facing Dresden’s Stübelallee. The image people looking in from the outside get is one reminiscent of a box full of oversized model car sets.
Another Volkswagen innovation is the customer forum set up at the Transparent Factory. The forum puts cutting-edge technology at the disposal of customers and other visitors to the facility, so that they may inform themselves about, and actually experience, Volkswagen, the brand’s new premium-class models and the topic of individual mobility.
Customers who come to the Dresden Factory to pick up the vehicles produced here for them are exclusively looked after in a separate section of the customer forum, the customer lobby. The actual hand-over of their new automobile takes place in the so-called salon and is choreographed to be am exceptional experience.
Location and architecture
The L-shaped Transparent Factory is situated on an 8.3-hectare property on Straßburger Platz, around 100 meters from the Botanical Gardens. Volkswagen’s new premium-class automobiles are manufactured behind glass panes with a total surface dimension of 27,500 square meters. The facility spans three stories and a total of 55,000 spacious and pleasantly designed square meters of production space characterized by total transparency to and from the surrounding cityscape. The angled glass building boasts edging of 140 meters in length and is 20 meters high. Even when they are in direct proximity of the building, pedestrians and residents can make out practically no sound from within.
The strip on which the Factory is now situated already featured a dense complex of buildings back in the 19th century. Until it was destroyed in WWII, Straßburger Platz was home to the Municipal Exhibition Palace and the famous Kugelhaus, taken down during the time of the Third Reich. This city square was used as a venue for displays of art and culture, landscaping and architectural concepts of international standing. As a bridge linking the present-day to the past, the visitor area of the Transparent Factory features a spherical audiovisual infotainment centre reminiscent of the shape of the Kugelhaus which was once a distinguishing landmark of the square.
The distinguishing feature of the Transparent Factory itself, a feature visible from a great distance is a glass tower of close to 40 meters in height in which the completed automobiles are displayed as they wait for pick-up. It is from here that the proud owners set off from the Transparent Factory in their new vehicles, crossing the square and the so-called pick-up bridge. The inside of the building was designed to be just as aesthetically appealing as the exterior architecture of the facility. The large glass walls and 24,000 square meters of parquet flooring (parquet even in the assembly area) generate a relaxing, bright and airy ambience which reflects the innovative essential idea of combining meticulous manual craftsmanship and automated assembly processes.
The planners placed keen emphasis on environmental considerations for this facility: 350 trees were planted at a cost of more than 56,000 euros; special sodium vapor lamps around the outdoor area operate in the yellow spectral range so as not to disturb the insects populating the nearby Botanical Gardens; the building complex was designed with an underground depth which would not affect the biological balance of the groundwater; the sealed area of the grounds was reduced from 6.7 hectares at the time it hosted previous constructions to 4.8 hectares now; because all parts except the vehicle bodies are transported to the facility by freight trams, the volume of heavy-vehicle road traffic in the inner-city area has not risen in any significant way.