The Grand Tour of German Automotive—Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen

Daimler Sindelfingen AerialMy Grand Tour of German Automotive continues now with plants from Mercedes-Benz (also known as Daimler). I visited a total of four plants from Mercedes-Benz, including all three automotive final assembly plants Sindelfingen, Bremen, and Rastatt. I also had a tour at their quite good Daimler truck plant in Wörth, the largest heavy-duty truck plant in the world.

My first tour was in Sindelfingen. I had spent quite a few months in Sindelfingen in the past, but this was long ago, and what I learned is also covered by confidentiality. Hence, for this series I relied on public plant tours combined with public knowledge.

Disclaimer: The following is based on my personal observations and opinions and may not be accurate or correct. It is based on publicly available information and what I observed during public tours, and when I observed it. The observations may differ at a different time and place.

About Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes Benz LogoMercedes-Benz is one of the most prestigious and renowned car brands in the world, with a history of innovation and excellence dating back to the invention of the first automobile by Karl Benz in 1886. The company is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and produces a wide range of luxury and high-performance vehicles, including sedans, coupes, SUVs, sports cars, and electric models.

Introduction To Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen

Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen Customer Centre
Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen Customer Centre

Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen near Stuttgart is the largest plant of Mercedes-Benz, and one of the largest ones in the world. It is also the oldest Mercedes-Benz plant, founded in 1915. This plant develops all passenger cars, and 10 000 of the 35 000 employees work in R&D. It has four final assembly lines for different models, such as the E-Class, S-Class, Maybach, CLS, GLC, EQS, and some AMG versions, producing around 300 000 cars per year.

Daimler Assembly Line
Sindelfingen assembly line 1956

Interestingly, it also has a helipad for emergency deliveries of missing parts, as many other car plants have too. You rather have a helicopter fly in from Eastern Europe twice a week rather than idling the plant for two days. Besides O-rings and other small parts, CEOs also like to avoid the traffic and drop in from above.

Factory 56 for the S Class and Maybach Line

Daimler Factory 56
Mercedes-Benz Factory 56 Building

Factory 56 is the most modern assembly line in Mercedes-Benz, with production starting in 2020. Mercedes-Benz claims it is the most modern car factory in the world, which depends on your definition of modern, but it is definitely fancy. It does include all the bells and whistles of what you can do digitally nowadays.

Factory 56 Maybach
Maybach in the Factory 56

Factory 56 produces the luxury S-Class and the ultra-luxury Maybach…which is an S-Class with more fanciness. The first Maybach from 2002 was developed completely independently, which was insanely expensive, and the main reason why Mercedes-Benz LOST EUR 400 000 with each car sold. Hence, now it is a much more financially sensible souped-up C-Class.

Most Maybachs go to China nowadays, especially the extended version in black with LOTS of chrome decors. According to my guide, the average Maybach customer in China is only 23 years old. Maybe I am doing something wrong…

The building’s hall is built high to leave space to produce tall vehicles like buses in the future. The factory has lots of roof windows, providing natural light (or what they call Blue-Sky Architecture). Solar panels on the roof provide 30% of the electricity for Factory 56, and they claim to be carbon neutral.

The Factory 56 Assembly Line

Maybach
The Maybach

The assembly line in Factory 56 produces the C-Class and the Maybach in all their variants. Hence, you have diesel engines, petrol engines, hybrids, and fully electric cars coming down the line. Combined with all the variants and options that you can buy for the most luxurious Mercedes-Benz vehicles, this creates an insane number of variants. As a result, the line has a low level of automation, with lots of manual work being done by teams of 8-12 members, including a team leader. Job rotation occurs every 1.5-2 hours, and the production process follows a just-in-time, just-in-sequence approach.

Automotive Assembly C Hangers
C-hangers (not Mercedes)

A C-hook rotates the car to avoid overhead work. These are common nowadays in newer lines. The line also has the conventional moving platforms, but also uses AGVs to transport their car bodies in some segments… albeit I have not seen that myself.

The takt time is around 90 seconds according to my estimate, since the exact number was confidential. The lead time is 3 days, with 1 day for the body shop, 1 day for the paint shop, and 1 day for the final assembly. The line claims to be 250% more efficient than the previous line, but it is unclear where this number comes from. My own estimate of the percentage of value add is 36%, which is not terrible for Germany, but not really anything to brag about either (see my blog post How to Estimate Value Add for Manual Work for more). It felt like there was quite a lot of idle time and waiting for the operators. I also saw operators working ahead of their station, especially before a break. By working three stations ahead before the break and catching up three stations afterward, they were able to extend their breaks by 10 minutes (my estimates).

Daimler Sindelfingen Plant Model
Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen Plant model

The andon also measured the GAL (which stands for GeradeAusLauf, loosely translated as StraightOutRun), which is the percentage of flawless cars produced divided by the total number of cars produced. It is an indicator of the quality of the production process and the efficiency of the manufacturing line. In English, this would be the first part yield (FPS) (thanks to Jean-Pierre Goulet for pointing that out in the comments).  The target was 55%, but the current rate is 49%, meaning one out of two cars need some rework.

Poka Yoke measures are in place, such as making the Maybach cable and S-Class cable plugs incompatible. Hence, you cannot confuse the different cables. Kitting uses the common pick-by-light and the newer pick-by-beamer systems.

Forklift with Load
…have your boss talk to my boss…

Toolboxes are covered with felt to avoid scratches. The factory operates in two shifts, and workers work ahead before their break, extending it by 10 minutes. Logistics are handled externally (as it is all over Mercedes-Benz Germany), and manufacturing is not allowed to talk directly with logistics. This creates sometimes quite some headache for operations, as communication from an assembly operator has to go up in the Mercedes-Benz hierarchy, then cross over to the logistics hierarchy, and from there go down to the logistics operator again.

So this is my summary on the headquarter plant of Mercedes-Benz in Sindelfingen. In my next post I will look at their second plant in Bremen. Now, go out, learn from other plants, and organize your industry!

If You Want to Follow in My Footsteps

Mercedes-Benz offers public tours in all of their automotive final assembly line plants. For Sindelfingen you find an overview of the tours here. They have a short 75-minute compact tour and a 105-minute intensive tour, both in English and German. The tour visits either the latest Factory 56 for the C-Class and the Maybach, or one of the other assembly lines for their less expensive cars. I went there three times on a public tour, and all three times they went to Factory 56, as this was requested by most customers. Frankly I was hoping to at least once see one of the other lines. But the tour is still good.

Mercedes-Benz in Bremen offers a 90-minute intensive tour here. Besides this intensive tour they also offer logistic tours, paint shop tours, self-drive tours on their test track, and more, both in English and in German. However, not all offers are available all the time in all languages.

The Unimog in its element
The Unimog in its element

Mercedes-Benz in Rastatt offers a 45-minute compact tour, a 90-minute intensive tour, and a 60-minute tour here. Not all tours are offered all the time, and I could only find a German option. They also offer drives on their off-road test track.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks in Wörth offers tours here. There are 90-minute tours in German and English to visit their heavy-duty truck plant. At the time of writing, tours to their second plant-in-a-plant Unimog production are in preparation, but the guide told me that they expect to be booked out quickly, since there are a surprising number of fans for the legendary Unimog out there.

For the other Mercedes-Benz plants for engines, axles, etc., I did not find public tours, but they may offer tours on request. The Sprinter plant in Düsseldorf does offer tours on request.

PS: Many thanks to Mercedes-Benz for offering tours through their plants to the public!

6 thoughts on “The Grand Tour of German Automotive—Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen”

  1. I Worked in Singelfingen in 2003/2004 and Bremen in 2005 on a Standard Montage Projects.

  2. May be “ GAL (which stands for GeradeAusLauf” can be traduced in English by “First Pass Yield”!

  3. I worked with Daimler at the end of the last century. A colleague and I focused solely on Bau38 initially under the KVP banner, and then introduced wider-scope genba kanri …which they were then going to incorporate into their (then) developing ‘Daimler Chrysler Production System’.
    At the start of our activities the off-line repair stations were overflowing: there was a vicious circle as if a car was off-lined it further upset the sequence – the ‘string of pearls’ as they called it – and made it more likely that subsequent vehicles wouldn’t be completed. When we’d finished, the repair people had very little work. I cannot speak with data, but would estimate that ‘right first time’ was mid~high nineties. ‘Null Fehler Tors’ were introduced in Paint too to good effect.
    I cannot recall what VA:non-VA time might have been.
    I’m disappointed at your observations.

  4. Hi Steve, I also consulted at Daimler in the early 2000’s, albeit only sometimes on the shop floor. Hence, thanks for your add-ons. It seems the performance degraded a bit over the last 20 years (maybe complicated by cars getting more complex and hence having more bugs?).

  5. Hi!

    My husband and me will stay in Berlin for a week on august/2024 and make a trip to visit the Mercedez Benz Museum and the plant in Sindelfingen. We need to make a reservation to visit the plant? They offer spanish or english tours?

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