Industry 4.0 Tour in Germany – A Van Full of Nerds – Overview and Audi

In 2019 I organized a non-commercial Industry 4.0 tour for some friends through my university, the Karlsruhe University of Applied Science. For the first week in July 2019, we rented a van and toured southern Germany. We visited fourteen different locations in five days to understand the current state of Industry 4.0 in Germany. Almost all of these locations were Industry 4.0 award-winning enterprises. However, our assessment of Industry 4.0 often differed from these awards. Since we all come from the lean corner, we often have a different outlook on things than people who specialize in Industry 4.0. Let me give you an overview of our tour:

The Van Full of Nerds

The Nerds

The group consisted of eight people from all over the world coming together for one week of studying Industry 4.0 and having fun. We called it a “van full of geeks” until one member pointed out that geeks are wanna-bes and nerds are the real thing, hence we renamed it to a “van full of nerds.” If you work in lean, you surely will recognize some of these names. We are (in alphabetical order):

  1. Michel Baudin (Lean Expert and Consultant, USA)
  2. Prof. Hironori Hibino (Tokyo University of Science, head of Japan Industry 4.0 government group, Japan)
  3. Dr. Kai Lorentzen (Senior Product Manager I4.0 Bosch, Germany)
  4. Prof. Torbjörn Netland (Production Professor at ETH Zürich; Switzerland)
  5. Dr. Ralph Richter (Retired Plant Manager of Bosch, Production Researcher, Germany)
  6. Franck Vermet (Production Systems Mentor)
  7. Mark Warren (Lean Expert, Researcher, and Historian, USA)
  8. Prof. Christoph Roser (Lean Professor, Author of this blog, Germany)

The Plants

Our week was quite packed with stops. Altogether during this fun week, we had fourteen stops in five days on our itinerary. Seven of them were plant visits, and another seven were presentations, try-outs, and demonstrations. Hence we had almost three study events per day! Here is the list of plants we visited in southern Germany to study Industry 4.0 (in order of the visits):

  1. Bosch Wafer Fab, Reutlingen: Wafer factory producing sensors, won the 2017 Industry 4.0 award for consistently networked factory
  2. Kärcher, Winnenden: Produces floor cleaning machines of all sizes and types
  3. Bosch, Feuerbach: Huge plant, we looked at the Bosch Connected Industry and the Nexeed Transparency Kit
  4. Trumpf, Gerlingen: Smaller plant of Trumpf, making punching tools for sheet metal processing
  5. Siemens, Amberg: Famous plant making programmable logic controllers, won the 2018 Industry 4.0 award for smart factory, and many more
  6. ABB Stotz-Kontakt, Heidelberg: Making fuses, won the 2016 Industry 4.0 award for automation and networking of production to control the increasing number of variants
  7. Audi, Neckarsulm: Producing the higher end cars of the Audi brand (e.g., A7, A8)

Most of these were near Stuttgart, but we drove up to three hours to see Siemens, the plant farthest away from our hotel in Stuttgart.

We especially liked the ABB-Stotz Kontakt plant, which we thought had the best Industry 4.0 approach, with a particular focus on finding out what really is useful for their factory. But overall it was interesting to see the different approaches used by the different factories. All of them had their strengths and weaknesses. In this series of posts I will focus on the positives, and glance over the weaknesses, since it is impossible to make a complete assessment of the plants.

Other Events

We also had a few presentations, demonstrations, and try-outs. Below are these visits (in order of the visits):

  1. Bosch at the Arena 2036, showing us their vision of the factory of the future
  2. Drag&Bot at the Arena 2036 for programming robots
  3. NAiSE at the Arena 2036 providing sensors for tracking intra-logistics
  4. ThingOS at the Arena 2036 providing connectivity for Industry 4.0, smart home, and smart retail
  5. Robogistics Laboratory at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Science, researching at the cutting edge between Robotics and Logistics
  6. R3DT providing virtual reality for work and assembly planning including ergonomics
  7. Klingelnberg: Maker of machines for gear cutting, won the 2016 Industry 4.0 award for the introduction of a cyber-physical production system in bevel gear production

As you can see, it was quite a packed week with fourteen study events – and we even fit in a visit to the quaint medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Overall it was a very educational and fun week. In the following I will look at some locations in more detail and show you what we saw, what we liked, what we didn’t like, and why.

This starts a series of blog posts about what we saw and what we learned. While I was influenced by and received input from the other tour members, these blog posts are written by me and hence may reflect my opinion more than the others, although on many points we agreed. In this first post, besides this introduction, I will give you a (very brief) look into Audi in Neckarsulm.

Audi Plant, Neckarsulm

Our last stop on the tour was the Audi plant in Neckarsulm. This tour was one of the normal tours for tourists and customers picking up their new Audis, so it was not an Industry-4.0-specific tour. Hence there won’t be much detail. Subsequent blog posts on other plants will have much more details and information.

Anyway, the plant was very clean and highly automated, with 2,200 industrial robots. The mobile robots usually had nicknames to help their integration with the human workers. A car is completed every 162 seconds in two shifts per day. The teams had around six to eight team members for every team leader, hence nicely small teams. As the City of Neckarsulm grew around it, the plant suffered from a lack of space, so they built upward with production on three levels. Most of us had a good feeling about the plant. The presentation was very good by a highly enthusiastic presenter, but since it was geared to a general audience (mostly people picking up their new Audis), it did not contain much information on Industry 4.0.


So this is the first post on our van full of nerds. In my next post I will present ABB Stotz-Kontakt in Heidelberg. While all plants had strengths and weaknesses, we liked this plant best. Until then, stay tuned, and go out and organize your industry!

P.S.: Thank you very much to everybody who hosted us and showed us their plants and products!

Post Series Overview


13 thoughts on “Industry 4.0 Tour in Germany – A Van Full of Nerds – Overview and Audi”

  1. It looks you had great time and nice experiences. Thank you for sharing, looking forward for the next posts. I would be interested to join such tour if available in the future.

  2. Dear Sir/Madam,

    My name is Dennis WONG from the Hong Kong Productivity Council. The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) is a multi-disciplinary organisation established by statute in 1967, to promote productivity excellence through integrated advanced technologies and innovative service offerings to support Hong Kong enterprises.

    We are currently hosting a tour to explore on innovation and new technologies in different dimensions. Our Council would like to visit Siemens and hopefully there will be a tour or seminar for our members to stimulate their mind and exchange on thoughts regarding on Industry 4.0.

    The estimated date of the tour is from 9th Jan to 15th Jan 2020.

    If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me.

  3. Is there a way to learn more about industry 4.0 inside of the Audi plant? Is so could you lead me in the right direction?

  4. Hello, I am a Supply Chain Management student the University of Rhode Island and I am very intrigued by this educational journey you experienced. I can’t believe Audi can make a car in 162 seconds…blows my mind. I look forward to reading more about the other places when you post.

  5. Hi Molly, depending on the car plant a car comes of a production line every 50 to 200 seconds for mass produced cars. Fastest one is Honda I believe with around 50isch seconds (it gets adjusted slightly based on demand)

    If you have a chance to see a car plant, do it, it is an amazing thing to watch…

  6. Completing a car every 162 seconds is not the same as making a car in 162 seconds.

    Regarding car industry practices, Mark DeLuzio, formerly or Danaher, reports seeing a takt time of 48 seconds at Toyota in Japan. He didn’t say where or when.

    Which raises an interesting question: what specifically is it about car assembly that makes a shorter takt impractical?

  7. Hi Michel, correct. I slightly changed the wording in the text. As for a good cycle time (not only cars but mass production in general with a demand that is satisfied by multiple lines), it is a trade off between the worker becoming an expert at the task (shorter time is better) and the worker getting bored (longer time is better). Some sources claim that anything between 30 and 90 seconds is good. Of course for small scale production the effort of setting up the individual tasks becomes overbearing, and you often find long cycle times of hours or more … but you need better trained and hence more expensive workers. If you have only one line for this product, the customer demand sets the takt.

  8. Hi Chris,
    I am studying Supply Chain Management at The University of Rhode Island right now and find this post very interesting! Unbelievable small facts they tell you about during a tour like that and even reading previous comments it is wild that cars can be created so quickly! Industry 4.0 is going to be amazing to watch it grow. I’ll definitely keep up with your posts when I can.

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