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  6. Once a Combustion Engine Producer – now Electricity Pioneer

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Once a Combustion Engine Producer – now Electricity Pioneer

Once a Combustion Engine Producer – now Electricity Pioneer

The Salzgitter plant is getting ready for electric drives. While one of the 86 production lines is still used for building very heavy 6-cylinder engines among other things, the workers directly next door are making a fist-sized electric pump.

The latest generation of the EA211 TSI evo is being built on this line for gasoline engines. Thanks to innovations like the new Miller combustion process, this 1.5-liter TSI is both fuel-efficient and powerful

60 million engines! That enormous number of engines is what the employees at the Volkswagen plant in Salzgitter have produced since 1970. The anniversary engine – a 1.5 TSI engine (EA 211EVO) – will start rolling off the production line in early February.

In addition to this large figure, there is a somewhat smaller but currently just as significant one: 7,000. Right now the Salzgitter workforce produces 7,000 various types of engines daily: diesel, gasoline, three-, four-, and six-cylinder engines, and even a 16-cylinder one for Bugatti. In addition, there are also numerous engine components. This all takes place on 86 assembly lines. The level of productivity in Salzgitter has never been higher – 50 years after the plant was first built. 

After the conversion of this diesel engine line, the 2.0 TDI will be produced on the line starting in 2019
“Our aspiration is to bring about the most efficient processes in production, development and organization. We tackle issues directly on-site and involve all our employees. Transparency helps the workforce see where we stand,” says Christian Bleiel, head of the components plant.

Every one of the 86 production lines will continue increasing the quantities they produce little by little. One goal was to get away from weekend work by producing more during the work week. That was successfully achieved. Furthermore, the company parted ways with unprofitable components, such as marine engines.

Engines for the Golf and Tiguan, but also for Bugatti

With around 6,500 employees, Volkswagen Group Components is one of the biggest employers in the Salzgitter region. And then there are the 400 apprentices. Engines and components from Salzgitter are built into more than 60 Volkswagen Group models. Naturally, that includes the Golf and Tiguan, as well as the Crafter and T6 and the Bugatti Chiron.

Triple transformation

Strictly speaking, the Salzgitter plant has been going through a triple transformation in recent years. The first one was the change from diesel to more gasoline engines. Whereas until a few years ago, diesel engines made up three quarters of the total in production and gasoline engines only one quarter, the ratio is now reversed. The second transformation is the ongoing preparation for new, even more efficient engines with lower emissions in general – and increasing the quantities produced. Finally, the third transformation is the shift to e-mobility.

The plant’s conversion and transformation are in full swing. Right now several worlds are confronting each other: while one of the 86 production lines here is still used for building the very heavy 6-cylinder engines among other things, the workers directly next door are making a fist-sized electric pump. Moreover, a free area not far away is just now being re-equipped for the new era of e-mobility. In a few weeks, stators and rotors for the e-motors will begin series production.

2,000 key elements a day for the e-motor

Getting started with e-mobility: in 2019 the series production of stators and rotors for the MEB platform will begin

The goal is to produce up to 2,000 rotor and stator units a day for the I.D. family, as well as electric pumps and electric air-conditioning compressors. At the same time, expertise on production processes for battery cells is being developed at the Salzgitter site. Moreover, a pilot facility for recycling batteries is planned for launch at the Salzgitter factory in 2020. The idea behind it: after their service life, battery cells will be recycled to protect the environment and to secure valuable raw materials (such as cathodes, copper, steel and aluminum). “We have not only ensured a future with all these projects, but also created a reliable perspective far beyond the year 2020 … and not only for the Salzgitter location,” says Mark Möller, head of both development and e-mobility.

The conversion and transformation in Salzgitter are, however, only part of a completely revamped entrepreneurial alignment: as of January 1, 2019, Volkswagen Group Components is an independent corporate unit under the umbrella of Volkswagen AG. It encompasses 80,000 employees from 61 plants at 47 locations around the world. “A centralized management can maximize synergies, promote communication and connections between the locations, utilize capacity in the best possible way across brands and optimize investments,” says Thomas Schmall, board member responsible for the Volkswagen Group Components, about the new structure. The Volkswagen Group Components will be divided into five new business fields: engines and foundry, gear boxes and electric drives, chassis, e-mobility, seats. Each business field is responsible for the entire process: from development and procurement to production. Schmall: “This autonomy allows not only Components but also every business segment to fully exploit its potential and at the same time to be wholly measurable based on the results. This is how we create competitive and future-proof jobs.”

The Salzgitter plant manages large production quantities and high complexity

“We move” is the claim Volkswagen Salzgitter makes. When it comes to cars with conventional engines, the colleagues from Lower Saxony deliver the heart, so to speak. Many employees are in the process of being re-trained for the transformation to e-mobility and are familiarizing themselves with their new jobs step by step.

The Salzgitter plant has proven for decades that it can manage large production quantities and high complexity. Its broad range of large series expertise and experience with innovations are now flowing into the new e-technology. Here, too, it’s about making the technology more cost-effective, and thus more marketable.

“The workforce is fully on board, because for one they know that that’s how to secure the future,” says works council head Dirk Windmüller. The long-term plan calls for keeping 5,000 to 6,000 jobs at the location. To accomplish that, services like minor repairs are being outsourced, semi-retirement plans encouraged (the average age of the workforce is currently 46) and temp hiring reduced.

“Salzgitter shows the way”

“The core message is that we can do it ourselves,” says plant director Bleiel. “Salzgitter shows the way,” as CEO Herbert Diess expressed at a symposium at the site. No doubt about it: Salzgitter is one of the pioneers of e-mobility in Europe.

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