Reporting 2020

Wired for success

Volkswagen plans to expand its manufacturing plant in Zwickau into Europe’s largest production location for electric cars. BLG LOGISTICS is making a key contribution to this growth strategy: Its logistics center supplies the cable harnesses for the vehicles perfectly synchronized with production. A mission with a future.

Meerane, ten kilometers from Zwickau, has always had a feel for tomorrow’s mobility.

In 1906, the first car chassis were produced in the small town in Saxony at a time when most people still relied on carriages with minimal “horse power”. Now, 114 years later, human travel is again undergoing a revolution, this time in the form of e-mobility. Once again, Meerane is on board. Since January 2020, BLG LOGISTICS has been operating a logistics center built from scratch in Meerane. It handles cable harnesses for electric vehicles from the automobile supplier LEONI, storing, sequencing and supplying them to the nearby Volkswagen plant in Zwickau. In the final development phase as from mid-2021, six electric models for three group brands will be built in Zwickau. The production volume will be 330,000 vehicles per year (maximum capacity).

The first model off the blocks is the Volkswagen ID.3. Next in line are the ID.4, the Audi Q4 e-tron and the Seat Cupra-Elborn, among others. For every e-Volkswagen manufactured in Zwickau, BLG delivers a Leoni cable harness set from its facility in Meerane. The vehicle and the set belong together like a key and a lock. The right cable harness must always be available precisely in sequence at the assembly line in the Volkswagen plant. This means the cable harnesses supplied by BLG must be synchronized reliably and on time with the complex production plan in Zwickau.

How the harnesses reach the assembly line

Before the cable harnesses arrive at the Volkswagen assembly line and are integrated into the vehicle, they have been on quite a journey. First they are produced in the Leoni factory in Tunisia, then shipped to Genoa and finally transported by truck to Meerane. The trip by ferry and truck from Tunisia to Germany takes around four days. “To manage any disruptions in the transport chain or changes in the production program, our warehouse stocks are designed to that we have enough components for up to seven days’ production,” says the Facility Manager Mathias Pfeiffer.

Once the trucks arrive in Meerane, large timber crates are unloaded. Each contains 42 cable harnesses with ID numbers that ensure they can be unequivocally assigned to the specific electric car to be produced. The goods are carefully unpacked and inspected: Are the cable harnesses complete, is there any damage, do they exactly match the delivery data communicated by Leoni? All this and more is documented in the internal IT system.

Image: Mathias Pfeiffer, Facility Manager

Then the BLG team transfers the harnesses to different-sized, color-coded containers, scans them into the computer system and interlinks them in the IT system. This prepares the cable harnesses for their journey to the automated small parts warehouse, with its awesome size and technical capabilities. The warehouse contains eleven rack aisles with 18 levels; enough space for around 37,000 containers. Eight storage and retrieval machines travel up and down the aisles. Tirelessly, they feed or remove the small parts containers into or out of the racks, or reposition them. It’s a vast, automated puzzle that fills the warehouse with buzzing and humming. The work of the BLG employees who carefully take the cable harnesses into storage in the warehouse is crucial. It ensures the components are always ready in the right place and can be supplied fully automatically to Volkswagen – without any inconsistencies, delays or mix-ups. “We do the groundwork so that the right cable harness for the right car is available at the assembly line in Zwickau exactly when it’s needed,” explains Mathias Pfeiffer.

It’s no easy job, especially as the BLG facility will have to process more cable harnesses practically every day as the output of the Volkswagen factory in Zwickau grows continuously. “To make sure all work process are and remain stable and reliable at all times, we need excellent coordination between planning, IT, technical equipment and motivated employees.” So far, this has been achieved, says the 39-year-old. “And we do everything to keep it that way.”

Fast, efficient, accurate

Massive volumes of cable harness components need to be checked for completeness, quickly stored and automatically passed on at the right time. Every day, in three shifts and around the clock. “The requirements placed on the careful work and learning capability of employees, technical equipment and IT could hardly be higher,” says Mathias Pfeiffer. This is especially because the components are so crucial. Alongside the software and batteries, cable harnesses are among the most important parts of an electric car. They are like its nerve system. Usually, every car has seven different harnesses. Together they form the vehicle wiring system. LEONI is a globally successful specialist in this area and a partner of many automotive manufacturers. The on-board electrical system controls not only the drive system itself, but also the air conditioning, sound and navigation systems as well as driver assistance systems such as parking assistant and congestion assistant.

And it doesn’t stop there, because the ranges of features and performance levels of cars are increasing all the time. The more functions consumers want for their electric vehicles, the more capability the wiring system and cable harnesses need to provide. What’s more, the vast majority of new cars are individually configured to order, so the cable harness sets are correspondingly diverse. Complexity is growing in all areas – and logistics operations must rise to the challenge.

1.6 km
The cable network for an average Golf has a length of almost 1.6 kilometers.

Ready for the future

This is why the entire logistics system around the plant has to perform perfectly. Everything must run without a hitch. For the BLG logistics center, that means maintaining high rates of supply and, as always, putting every effort into the job. “This is no exaggeration,” says the Facility Manager Mathias Pfeiffer with a grin. He has been working for BLG for 16 years and was previously in charge of BLG operations at the Daimler and BMW Group locations in Kölleda and Leipzig. He’s used to the very high quality demands of the auto industry. For Pfeiffer and his team of currently 42 colleagues, Meerane is something special. “It’s great to help build up a new location from scratch. I’ve rarely seen such a steep run-up curve.”