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Volkswagen AG Forges Ahead With Transparent Prototype

In accordance with German automotive Industry 4.0 initiatives, the company currently receives RFID-tagged prototype parts from more than 150 suppliers for its Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi brands.
By Malte Schmidt

The same is also true of technical development. During the development phase, the components and parts are essentially prototypes with individual features and properties. As a result, a unique label is of critical importance. "Parts can only be identified effectively and efficiently in the automotive manufacturer's processes if the prototype parts have been given a standardized electronic label by the supplier," explains Hermann Dreyer, head of overall vehicle development for the Volkswagen brand. This helps to hone and refine core processes—for example, the construction status documentation for test vehicles. Such vehicles are subject to continuous changes and optimization processes during the development and testing phase. These processes are often very dynamic, which makes it particularly challenging to document the construction status of test vehicles.

RFID in Incoming Goods: The RFID-tagged prototype parts are automatically recorded in the incoming goods department.
Volkswagen AG's Transparent Prototype project shows how to achieve this in a practical and pioneering way. The prototype parts are labeled by the supplier in accordance with industry recommendation VDA 5509, which applies across all companies. This provides the new "IP address" for prototype parts and involves different labeling methods, such as DataMatrix codes and radio frequency identification. The use of RFID transponders is of special significance. "The vehicle manufacturer can identify RFID-coded prototype parts automatically within a few seconds, even when they have been installed in the vehicle," explains Hanno Wolff, the head of logistics in the Volkswagen brand's technical-development department. "This eliminates the need for many of the usual manual tasks associated with documenting the construction status during vehicle and component testing."

The process-related exchange of electronic data between suppliers and Volkswagen AG is vital for this system to work effectively. The supplier communicates the individual features and properties of the prototype parts to the vehicle manufacturer using a business-to-business (B2B) platform hosted by Group IT. The combination of RFID labeling and the additional electronic data exchange enables scenarios such as the automatic recording of prototype parts in the incoming goods department. The component information provided by the suppliers can also be accessed during the subsequent development and testing process. This enables the test vehicles and prototype parts to "talk" to the development engineers, which supports the analysis process and contributes to its efficiency.

RFID in Vehicle Testing: Volkswagen AG's technical development department reads test vehicles using RFID gates. This involves a combination of side and ground antennas that enable an instant 360-degree inspection. The data from the RFID-tagged prototype parts is communicated to IT systems that support the process. This results in automated construction documentation, which does away with the need for many previous manual operations.
The principle of the Transparent Prototype can be replicated. This requires solid organizational and IT preparation, as well as cross-company adoption of the industry recommendation VDA 5509. Volkswagen AG currently receives RFID-tagged prototype parts that are compliant with the new standard from more than 150 suppliers across its brands (Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi). New suppliers are added almost daily. This means that the Transparent Prototype is one of the largest cross-company applications in the German automotive industry in the context of Industry 4.0. There is also the potential for this technology to be used in series production, as initial technical assessments and feasibility studies have indicated positive results.

Dr. Malte Schmidt is the manager of Volkswagen AG's Transparent Prototype project.

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