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A machine moves

Most of us probably dread the thought of moving because it means packing, hauling and unpacking – activities that only put a mild smile on Achim Weber’s face. At Schaeffler, he plays an instrumental role in moving whole production lines.

by Carsten Paulun  December 2017

Achim Weber is a calm, cool and collected man. For 20 years, he’s been working for automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler. Weber is responsible for the development of manufacturing equipment in the eMobility business unit and, since recently, a specialist for moves as well. Not just because he’s managed a number of personal ones before but because Schaeffler, due to the high demand in China, is now manufacturing e-axles and hybrid modules there as well – using equipment that Achim Weber and his team develop, set up and test in Herzogenaurach and subsequently dismantle, pack and ship to Asia. At Schaeffler in China, the production equipment is reassembled and put into operation. About twice a year, a production line moves this way, from one continent to another.

 

A major logistics feat

 

Moving an entire factory is a major logistics feat that requires complex planning, as illustrated by the move of the “P2 hybrid module” product line that Weber and his team are carrying out now around the turn of the year. A smooth move is indispensable to ensuring that the line in Taicang near Shanghai, about 9,000 kilometers (5592.34 miles) away from Germany, can start operating as soon as possible. Twelve employees will be producing up to 500 P2 hybrid modules per day for Chinese automobile manufacturers in the new factory. China has long discovered the emission benefits of electric mobility, so there’s hardly a manufacturer that doesn’t offer any vehicles in this segment. Thanks to the new production line with a length of 80 meters (262.47 feet), Schaeffler will be delivering 60,000 P2 hybrid modules to these customers per year. The major advantage of the innovative Schaeffler module: It can be integrated into both existing and newly developed powertrains (see infographic pictured right).

 

40,000 single parts, 17 people, 15 containers, 6 weeks in transit

 

However, before production can be launched, the highly complex manufacturing line has to be dismantled and carefully packed. To keep from having to individually label and pack every single bolt, every actuator and every sensor, the line is divided into the largest possible segments. Otherwise 40,000 single parts that make up the line would have to be dealt with. But even for the individual segments more than 40 shipping crates are needed. Many of them are up to six meters (19.68 feet) long, three meters (9.84 feet) wide and equally high. The individual crates are moved out of the hall on 16-ton forklifts and loaded onto the trucks waiting outside. 14 semitrailers in total haul the dismantled production line weighing 80 metric tons (88.18 short tons) to Bremerhaven. There the crates are loaded onto ships for their six-week journey.

The production line is divided into individual segments (above left). Dismantling the line requires great care, be it protective elements or cable harnesses (above right). Teamwork (center left) makes the job and handling of the sensitive components easier. Larger elements are lifted directly onto the loading platform by a forklift truck

Schaeffler’s know-how in worldwide demand

 

Considering this effort, wouldn’t it be easier to just develop and build such a production line locally? Achim Weber: “The exacting quality and high safety and ergonomic standards require enormous experience.” So “made in Germany” does matter, not only in China but around the globe. The same is true for training the future production workers. All of them are trained in Bühl, Germany, on the same line, by the way, that they’ll be working on every day in the future.

 

Once the line in Taicang is up and running, Weber and his team will have finished their job – and, ultimately, saved the emissions from many miles of shipping for the benefit of the environment as in the future the P2 hybrid modules for the Chinese market will be produced close to customer sites and 90 percent of the materials used will be from the region around Taicang.

Photo Credits Schaeffler

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The production line is divided into individual segments (very top). Dismantling the line requires great care, be it protective elements or cable harnesses (below). Teamwork (center) makes the job and handling of the sensitive components easier. Larger elements are lifted directly onto the loading platform by a forklift truck