Highly efficient assembly and logistics processes and suppliers directly located on the plant’s premises as system partners: the smart plant in Hambach, France, has stood for the success story of an innovative, particularly lean production concept since the decision was made in 1994 to build the plant.
In its domain, it has set standards in the automotive industry and continues to do so. Around 1.6 million smart fortwo vehicles have rolled off the plant’s production line until today. With investments of around 200 million euros for the production of the new generation of the two-seater, the plant has continued to develop the original production concept with state-of-the-art technologies and further increased production flexibility.
Around 20 years ago, the Board of Management and the Supervisory Board of the former Daimler-Benz AG made one of the most important decisions in the foundation of smart: On completion of an extensive selection process, Hambach in the French region of Lorraine was chosen as the production site. Until today, around 1.6 million smart for two vehicles have rolled off the plant’s production line; the new smart fortwo has been produced since July 2014.
Dr. Annette Winkler, head of smart: “The history of smart is inseparably linked to our Hambach site. From production of the very first vehicle up to the all-new smart fortwo: our team here has made a very significant contribution to put our success story on the road by the millions. And now, as a new era begins with the new smart generation, smartville is one of the key success factors of our brand.”
“Just like the new smart generation continues to embody the core features of the original smart, we have also maintained the core of our production philosophy which was revolutionary at that time”, says Dr. Joachim Betker, who had already been part of the team as a young engineer at the time of the plant’s grand opening in 1997, and who returned to Hambach as plant manager in 2011 after various assignments in the Daimler group.
“Our production concept is based on the smart team’s overall coordination of the site with responsibility for the final product, and at the same time the cooperation with specialized suppliers and service providers – the so-called system partners – in numerous areas”, Betker points out.
‘smartville’: innovative, particularly lean manufacturing concept
An aerial view explains why the Hambach site is also referred to as ‘smartville’: centrally located within the industry complex with a total size of 68 hectares – of which 17.5 hectares built-up area – is the smart central building. It is surrounded by separate halls for the system partners and their production of components, pre-assembly of modules or provision of logistics services.
The central building, shaped like a plus sign, houses the final assembly: a band-conveyor carries the vehicles through each of the building’s four branches with the respective assembly stations. Thanks to the long exterior walls of these branches, all modules and parts can immediately be provided at the stations for assembly, exactly at the appropriate time (‘just in time’) and in the correct order (‘just in sequence’) for each individual vehicle. The system partners deliver directly via transportation bridges, further materials are supplied via the many truck docking stations. In the middle of the plus sign are further floors in which the plant’s administrative functions are located. An octagonal, roofed inner courtyard allows constant eye contact with production. The canteen on the top floor is available to all staff at smartville, serving as a daily point of contact for the smart team and the employees of the system partners.
System partners on site include Magna Chassis (tridion safety cell), Magna Doors (doors, tailgate), Faurecia (body panels), ThyssenKrupp (rear-wheel drive module and front axle) and SAS (cockpit). The system partners have extensive responsibility for their modules: for example, Magna Doors uses special geometry stations to check the exact fit of the new smart for two’s doors, eliminating the need for further adjustment when they are connected with the vehicle in final assembly.
The site also features a test track with a total length of about 1.5 kilometers used for pre-series testing and quality assurance: vehicle performance can be analysed on a variety of road surfaces including a bad-road section.
The new smart generation: consequent further development and additional increase in flexibility
The company has invested around 200 million euros for the production of the new smart fortwo in Hambach. In the past years, especially in 2013, the consequent further development of the production concept required the largest changes in terms of construction since the plant’s opening. Some 33,000 square meters of space were added, amongst others for a new logistics centre. Last year already, a new, highly modern paint shop began operations: an environmentally friendly wet-in-wet painting process replaced the previous powder coating. This led to significant increases in processing time as well as in the available variety of paint colours, so that smart customers can now also chose the colour of the tridion safety cell from the entire colour range. Similarly large upgrades occurred in the body shop: new joining technologies – gas-metal arc welding (MIG/MAG) and soldering instead of the previously used spot welding – required substantial changes as well. In addition, the entire conveyor system in final assembly was renewed. Altogether, the modernization of the plant also increased its production flexibility: the new smart for two as well as variants based on its predecessor can be produced on the same line.
Highly skilled and motivated team
About 800 men and women are directly employed with smart, almost the same number work for the system partners on site. “The success story here in Hambach cannot be imagined without the contributions of our highly skilled and motivated team”, says plant manager Betker. The retention rate is high – almost half of the workforce has been on board from the outset. Still, the average age is low, currently standing at 40 years. “smartville has always been a big cooperation project between Germany and France as well”, explains Betker. “Our employees in the engineering departments are mostly trilingual: German, French, and English. Of course this also contributes to our success in the daily business.”
Close exchange regarding production of the new smart forfour
The smart Hambach plant has a close exchange with the Renault plant in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, where the new smart forfour is produced within the scope of the cooperation between smart and Renault. With the involvement of production and quality experts from Hambach, it is seen to it that all vehicles of the new smart generation fully meet the brand’s quality standards regardless of their production location.