Sunday, October 21, 2007

Volkswagen: The Transparent Factory (Dresden, Germany)

To lead off the Plant Tours I'll start with the tour that most exceeded my expectations. Volkswagen's Transparent Factory (GLÄSERNE MANUFAKTUR auf Deutsch), as highlighted in a Plant Tour on the VWvortex forums, is a phenomenal manufacturing facility. In my opinion it is one of the most impressive factories I have seen to date. The Transparent Factory opened in 2002, and both the German and English names are a word play on the double meaning of transparent, referring to both optical transparency and transparency of the production process.

The Transparent Factory builds VW's top of the line Phaeton, and Bentleys can also be built on the same assembly line since the Phaeton's D1 platform is shared with the Bentley Continental GT and Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Ergonomics and a great deal of industrial engineering are obvious in the layout and manufacturing design. The assembly line is quite different from any automotive final assembly plant that I have seen before, and the whole facility has an experimental design feel to it. The cleanliness of the facility lends a sterile, hospital like feel to the whole site, and the white coveralls of the assembelers almost seem inappropriate (as if they should be wearing a white lab coat instead)!

The assembly operation and component factories, in places such as nearby Zwickau, appear quite integrated, and one can definitely tell that little expense was spared to establish the Transparent Factory as the flagship manufacturing operation in VW's worldwide operations. I am still very surprised that VW has not advertised their Phaeton manufacturing process more to the public. Phaetons are very nice cars, and showing the public how their car is built would make many people rethink the general assumption that VWs are a lower tier product versus Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz.
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