Das Auto. Magazine

THINK AHEAD

the model factory.

Foshan in southern China is the newest of Volkswagen’s production sites – and one of the most modern worldwide. A visit to a plant that was built from the ground up according to the Think Blue. Factory. sustainability principle.

Text Xifan Yang
Photos David Høgsholt

“There was nothing here until two years ago,” says Andreas Dick. It’s a warm winter’s day in subtropical Guangdong, China’s boom region par excellence. Gazing around the 166-hectare grounds, one sees solar panels on the rooftops shimmering in the sunlight. Here Volkswagen has just inaugurated its newest and most modern automobile plant in the People’s Republic – on the outskirts of the industrial city of Foshan. The provincial capital Guangzhou, also called the “World’s Factory”, lies directly at the city’s eastern boundary. The Special Economic Zones Shenzhen and Zhuhai are situated in the same metropolitan region on the Pearl River Delta, as are Hong Kong and Macao.

 

Andreas Dick, 42, is plant manager of FAW-Volkswagen in Foshan, the seventh site of the joint venture with the partner from northern China. Dick has been at Volkswagen since 1998, working in Wolfsburg, Mexico and Changchun before coming here.

6,500

highly qualified jobs soon in Foshan.

He has been in charge of the Foshan plant’s construction for the last two years – essentially since the groundbreaking ceremony. He knows every last screw at the site and understands the significance of what is in the making here. Ultra-modern and sparing in its use of resources, Foshan is intended to serve as both a role model and benchmark. At the same time it is a symbol of the pioneering role in the construction of sustainable production sites that China is striving to occupy. Foshan was the first Chinese automobile factory to earn the Triple-Star Green Building Award, the highest government commendation there is for eco-minded factory planning. It is also a token of recognition from the Chinese leadership on whose initiative the award was created through the National Green Building Council. They have been promoting more sustainable economic strategies for years in view of the enormous existing environmental problems.

 

In this respect, Foshan is a role model for the entire country – the establishment of an exemplary production site can be followed here. More than 2,000 employees are already working on site and in time this is expected to increase to 6,500. Many engineers have come from the Changchun and Chengdu sites to work here during the initial phase, as the plant is still under construction. The sound of drilling and hammering can still be heard in some areas and the production lines are just now starting up. The number of cars produced is supposed to reach 1,200 daily, starting in 2014. “We are only in the first weeks of production”, Andreas Dick says, exuding calm. “But we are right on schedule.“

Most of the employees use bicycles to get around the facility (photo at top); the Foshan plant entrance; Plant Manager Andreas Dick with Golf VII models currently in production; the medical department.
Employees check components just produced in the ultra-modern stamping facility.
Electrostatic paint spraying and the implementation of a filler-free paint process reduced energy consumption by 75 percent per car body.

90 percent

of waste produced by the production process and packaging materials is recycled.

Most processes in Foshan are computer controlled, with 805 robots in operation at the plant.

Yet the goals are ambitious. The first car came off the assembly line in December 2012, and in less than ten months the plant has reached market maturity. In other words, it produces the same Volkswagen quality as in the rest of the world. Next on the agenda is the production of the Golf VII for its market launch using MQB. Work in accordance with MQB, or Modularer Querbaukasten (Modular Transverse Matrix) will be carried out in China for the first time. All model types can be built with utmost flexibility by utilising the same assembly line, saving both time and money.

Furthermore, Foshan is setting new standards with a particular focus on sustainability. “The plant was planned that way from the outset,” explains Dick. “We didn’t only want to build the most environmentally conscious of all cars at Volkswagen, but also to become a sustainability leader in the production process itself.” The Think Blue. Factory. initiative stipulates that by 2018, the brand-related plants are to decrease energy consumption per vehicle significantly, produce less waste, release fewer solvents, use less water and emit less CO2. All sites are working together to achieve this major objective in compliance with a single standardised methodology.

This approach is apparent in all areas – beginning with the stamping facility, which is equipped with the most cutting-edge machines in the world. This is where significant progress is particularly obvious. Decades ago, work in a stamping factory was considered hard graft: noisy, dark and dirty. Colloquially it was referred to as the “dancehall”, because the rhythm of the presses set the pace. Today, machines several metres high form body parts. New energy-saving presses in Foshan are completely enclosed, and workplaces are all designed ergonomically. Naturally, 100 percent of any waste is recycled.

Next stop: vehicle body construction. Some 70 percent of the processes in Foshan are automated, and 805 robots of the latest generation are hard at work here, placing every weld spot accurately to the millimetre and save around 70 percent on energy. “Welding generates a lot of toxic gases and dust, which is why we have a high degree of automation here – to protect the workers,” says vehicle body engineer Peng Shan. “In addition, there are cutting-edge extractor fan installations all along the production line to ensure that these substances are immediately removed from the air.”

300,000

vehicles per year (in the first stage of construction) will be produced.

The first Golfs are hitting the assembly line. Currently, the plant is producing the models for the market launch of the Golf VII in China.

The Think Blue. Factory. principle is applied to all production areas. State-of-the-art technology in the paint shop ensures that the paint is not wasted and rejects are kept to a minimum. Procedures like electrostatic paint spraying have reduced energy consumption by 75 percent per car body. Short distances make things as efficient as possible in regard to logistics. The site also boasts a biological waste water treatment facility with membrane technology. About 10 percent of the electricity is supplied by a solar power installation on the plant’s roof.

 

Winters are mild in Foshan’s subtropical climate, but summers are very hot. To prevent excessive heat build-up in the buildings, the roofs are coated with a white PVC layer that reflects almost 100 percent of sunlight back into the atmosphere. At the same time the roofs are transparent and the windows large so there is less need for lighting; LED lights cover the rest of the demand.

 

In addition, a layered cooling system ensures that the cooled air doesn’t end up under the ceiling by feeding it into the designated area at workplace height. The overall result of these measures: 2,067 tonnes less CO2 per year, roughly equivalent to planting 160,000 beech trees.

At the end of the tour, Dick invites us to lunch in the factory canteen. Naturally, the plant manager has brought his reusable chopsticks with him, just as the majority of the employees do.

550 million litres of water are conserved by the new waste water facility per year.

100 percent

of the waste water from the plant is treated and reused.

550

million litres of water per year are conserved by the new waste water facility. This is equivalent to about four million bathtubs.