The virtual world
Virtual reality plays an integral role in the production of the Audi e-tron GT.
The Audi e-tron GT is a first in many ways, not least of which is that it was planned using entirely virtual models and no physical prototypes at all.
23 December, 2020
The e-tron GT is also remarkable as it is the first of the brand’s vehicles to be planned without the use or construction of any physical prototypes
Virtual reality training and even virtual conferencing is nothing new at Audi. For many years the brand has utilised this technology across a variety of areas with outstanding results, allowing multiple participants to experience new technologies or to participate in intricate planning for new models from various remote destinations.
The pending arrival of the all-electric super tourer, the Audi e-tron GT though introduces yet another dimension to the use of virtual reality and one that also benefits the ongoing efforts to be more efficient and to shut down on waste materials across its production facilities.
Remarkable for so many reasons (drivetrain, performance capabilities to name two) the e-tron GT is also remarkable as it is the first of the brand’s vehicles to be planned without the use or construction of any physical prototypes at all.
In usual vehicle development, a number of prototypes are used in planning, with prototypes fabricated during the early planning phase as one-off models with hand-built parts. Think full-sized, hand-built clay models.
Time consuming and very expensive, this has been the norm in automotive design and manufacture for decades, but the e-tron GT has been challenging convention since its development stages.
Here, all assembly sequences were tested virtually using software developed in-house and with virtual reality applications and are now being used successfully in practice in series production. Some of the special containers for the transport of sensitive parts were also planned without prototypes using this new virtual method, saving metal and the significant packaging used to protect the parts.
But the use of this virtual reality approach goes much further. Where does a part have to be located for the employee to have optimal access to it? Can the employee hold and install the part by him- or herself? How does she have to move to do it? Are other parts in the way? What tools does he need? During production planning for the Audi e-tron GT, every step and every action was tested in the digital space using virtual reality.
To create something so complex without creating a single physical model requires for every detail of the production hall to be modelled precisely and to scale, which is where 3D scans enter the equation. Using hardware and software specially developed in-house, a virtual reproduction of the physical production facility was created virtually, including all equipment, tools and shelves.
To create something so complex without creating a single physical model requires for every detail of the production hall to be modelled precisely and to scale
In addition to the material saving of creating things in the virtual world, the advantages of this technology extend to other areas of the production and development process
This essentially means that the Böllinger Höfe at the Neckarsulm site, where the Audi e-tron GT is built, exists in the digital world as well as the real one and the production of tomorrow can be planned virtually years in advance on the basis of this model.
In addition to the material saving of creating things in the virtual world, the advantages of this technology extend to other areas of the production and development process.
“Thanks to a VR solution developed here at Audi and the digital model, colleagues from all over the world can now meet in virtual spaces and find themselves in the middle of the production facility of tomorrow,” says Andrés Kohler, the man responsible for virtual assembly planning at Audi.
“They can look over the shoulders of digital workers as they perform the planned procedures. They can also experience and optimise the planned processes for any part variants in our application.”
The ongoing benefits for training and the reduction in business trips to collaborate as well as the tangible reduction in materials used are obvious. Refining the process of development and production without using costly resources and reducing equally costly travel time for various parties all play their part in making the production of the e-tron GT – and other vehicles to come – all the more efficient and sustainable.
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