New AGV line installed at VWSA

Cutting-edge technology is a first for the Uitenhage-based plant.

Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) has installed an automated guided vehicle (AGV) line to replace the traditional roller conveyor used on the VW250 engine line. An AGV is a mobile robot that follows markers or cabling in the floor, or uses vision or lasers to follow a preset route. AGVs are most often used in industrial applications to move materials around a manufacturing facility or warehouse.

The line delivers new generation EA211 and EA288 engines, which are being introduced on a number of new models within the Audi, Volkswagen, Seat and Skoda ranges.

“What is most intriguing about the AGV is the fact it is a completely contactless system. It knows exactly where to go by following induction cables hidden under the concrete floor. The cables also give it enough power not only to drive the system but to lift a complete engine gearbox powertrain weighing roughly 150 kilograms.” – Sarel Breitenbach: Manufacturing Planning and Plant Engineering (MPE) Manager

Older versions of AGVs are battery-powered, which means they need to be docked in a charging station at random intervals before being reintroduced into the production line.

The AGV vehicles were delivered by German company Daum + Partner and the installation took place during the annual shutdown. Similar AGV systems have been introduced at Volkswagen plants in Wolfsburg (Germany), Chattanooga (US) and China. The project was priced at R13.35 million. This however excluded equipment such as controlling systems, bolting equipment, gearbox filling equipment and infrastructure.

The Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) replaces the old traditional roller conveyor on the VW250 line in Final Assembly. The AGV is located at the Engine Sub-Assembly area in Final Assembly.

“The benefits the AGV project deliver are numerous. The biggest improvement has been in the area of ergonomics. For one, there is greater accessibility to the engine and gearbox from all sides, as the power train is on a turntable which can rotate to suit the operator,” said Breitenbach.


The Engine dress-up process on the AGV line has been introduced as a fully integrated system and total process security, meaning that a powertrain will not leave a station unless all the bolts, which need to be tightened are tightened. Only then does it proceed to the next station.

There is also a lifting table on top, making it possible to accommodate different operator heights – the old conveyor system often saw operators climb on steel platforms for proper reach. The workstation has also been optimised and is now three metres in length, as opposed to 0.8 metres on the old system. This allows for better line-side supply of parts.

The project included aluminium rails for easier movement of tools, and lightweight carbon fibre arms to act as a torque reaction device, reducing the force exerted on operators’ arms.

“The roof structure on the line is also suspended, with no columns obstructing the delivery of parts,” added Breitenbach.

“It was an extremely tough task to have only three weeks to remove the old system and install the new one, and from day one start building 348 cars a day – that was the ask, but I am proud to say we achieved it,” says Breitenbach.

Record production
VWSA says it should see record production at its engine plant this year. The engine plant production reached 110 708 units in 2012, growing to 151 269 units in 2013. This year, VWSA expects production to expand by a further 14%, to reach 172 873 units. Around 45 000 units of this number will be for the local market, while 46 765 units will go to China, 73 448 to India and 7 488 units to Malaysia.

Most of this year’s growth is expected to come from India, which last year received 32 117 units from South Africa.

The VWSA plant produces four-cylinder petrol engines and operates a four-shift, seven-day production week, with the fourth shift running on the weekends.

Vehicle production at Uitenhage was a different story in 2013, with production dropping 8% from 2012 to 2013, to reach 103 378 units.

Production of the Polo for the export market dropped 2 000 units, to 52 388 units, with local Polo volumes down roughly 5 000 units, to 17 034. Polo Vivo production, which is aimed solely at the local market, declined around 2 000 units, to 33 975 units.

The forecast is for the VWSA plant to up vehicle production 6%, to 109 649 units, in 2014, with 46 890 Polos destined for the export market, as well as 25 411 Polos and 37 348 Polo Vivos for the local market.

The VWSA plant has decreased energy use by 20% since 2010, carbon dioxide emissions by 14%, waste generated by 26%, and water use by 40%. The new year sees some new projects to further reduce these numbers, including Phase 1 of a waste water reverse osmosis system, which will recycle effluent water to parts of the paint shop. The potential savings here are 53 829 cubic metres of water a year.