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2018 marks the start of production of the electric-drive Audi e-tron® SUV at the Brussels plant.
Being the best doesn’t always mean being the first. But it certainly always means giving your best. 2018 will see Audi in Brussels commence production of its first all-electric-drive SUV. That means electric motors will be made alongside internal combustion engines and batteries will come off the line alongside fuel tanks. “We’re taking on a completely new task here,” said Bertram Günter, Project Manager Production C-BEV. “We’re developing the Brussels plant into a competence center for electric mobility within the Audi Group.”
The vital statistics of the sporty electric new Audi e-tron® SUV—based on the Audi e-tron quattro® concept study presented at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show—make for impressive reading: dual, powerful, electric motors at the front and rear axles; and rapid DC charging at commercial charging stations.
And how do you plan the production of a car that has no internal combustion engine, no fuel tank and no exhaust system but, instead, a battery pan the size of a double bed between the axles? The Brussels plant is actually well-suited for the Audi e-tron®.
“We plan to retain the same number of workers currently building the [Europe-only Audi] A1. in two shifts,” Günter said. “Because the larger SUV has more production content than the smaller Audi A1, the workforce will still be running at full capacity. And the layout of the halls is also very efficient. Battery manufacturing will take place in one hall that’s currently used for logistics.”
Dr. Christian Allmann, a battery specialist on Günter’s team, said the full integration of the battery into the load-bearing structure of the vehicle floorpan is one of the new aspects of the all-electric SUV. “This means an extremely high degree of safety in the design, and a level of precision in battery assembly with which we’re setting new benchmarks.”
His colleague Markus Flucke added, “We had to develop a whole series of new production technologies, all the way to automatic setting of the [battery cell] module into its mounts.”
01. Body shop
New diode laser saves around 30 percent energy during welding of car parts. The use of hot water for indoor climate control saves 3,5000 megawatt hours of energy per year.
02. Physical-chemical wastewater treatment plant
New technology improves overall efficiency by 80 percent.
03. Photovoltaic systems
The 37,000 m2 (398,264.7 sq ft) system generates more than 3,000 megawatt hours of carbon-neutral electricity per year, saving around 700 metric tons of C02. It is the size of five soccer fields, and the generated energy could supply more than 750 households with electricity for one year.
04. Paint shop
Innovative “cascade guiding” saves up to 60 percent of water used during the traditional washing process. Around 3,500 megawatt hours of energy and 882 metric tons of C02 is saved per year, thanks to the use of a heat pump.
05. Heat exchange at Energy Center North
Recovered waste heat from the flute of the boiler plant for pre-heating the hot water circuit saves 250 megawatt hours of energy per annum.
06. Two-stage power plant
Residual heat from power generation is used for heating buildings.
07. Solar panels
Around 1,000 megawatt hours of energy is saved per year.
The battery casing is made in a dedicated production facility, with the subsequent assembly being largely automated. Once the contacts have been established, direct human interaction is out of the question: It has 400V running through it. All employees at the plant receive training in working with high-voltage technology—from the base level of “sensitization” to the top level of “electrical specialist.”
The battery system is then transported to the chassis pre-assembly area, which is on the ground floor of the assembly hall. The first major component to be positioned on the component carrier is the front axle, which is already connected to the front motor, transmission and control units. Jigs help ensure that the assembly is positioned with millimeter accuracy. The next step is to lay the high-voltage cables and the connectors for the coolant lines, followed finally by assembly of the rear axle, complete with the other motors.
When the battery assembly and drive unit is finished, it travels to the hall’s upper level for the “marriage” in line section three, which runs fully automatized. As final assembly continues, the electric-drive SUV receives its charging unit and connectors, and data is uploaded to the control units and compiled. On the drive simulation rig, the car is subjected to an extensive program that mimics all the main driving situations it will face in everyday driving—from battery charging to coasting to full load at high speed. Finally, it heads out onto the factory’s track for a road test.
Before production of the e-tron ramps up in Brussels—parallel to the run out of the Audi A1, the successor to which will be built in Martorell, Spain—retrofitting is required to the plant’s upper level, along with step-by-step restructuring of the assembly line. The previous assembly line is giving way to a combination of an electrically driven suspended track and height-adjustable step system, split into a little more than 150 workstations.
“Historically, the workforce in Brussels has a lot of experience with new starts,” Günter said. “The new SUV is a huge opportunity for the plant. The aim is to set new standards.”