Saturday, February 11, 2012

VW Factory and Autostadt

The Autostadt was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. I wish we had more photos. Problem is that for the first chunk you weren't allowed to take photos. For the second half of the day I was enjoying myself so much I didn't snap photos. C'est la vie.
Helmut from our extended germany family worked at VW designing and creating the equipment for the assembly lines. Near the end of his career he was designing and managing whole factories. Retired now, he was more then happy to take us to VW and the Autostadt.
The first part of the day was touring the assembly lines. We toured and watched them make a VW Golf from a basic frame to a finished car. It was really neat seeing everything in motion. Sort of a dance, but with larger men instead of dainty ballerinas. There were women on the assembly line, but were the minority.
I was amazed by how much was still done by human. Asking Helmut about it, he said that certain tasks robots do very well, others people. Putting in a windshield with its super strong adhesive is great for a robot. It is a heavy bulky piece of glass, and because of the strong glue you really only get one shot, and it has to be precise. Ideal for a robot. Other tasks such as screwing in the dashboard unit is done with more human methods as there are more fiddly bits, and you need to move around a lot more. The people are helped by hoists and such, but for the most part it is a manual task.
Once we were done with the factory tour, we headed over to the Autostadt. The Autostadt is built right beside the VW factory. It is a campus of various buildings. One building for each of the brands VW carries: VW, Skoda, Lamborghini, Audi, and other. There is also a car museum, possibly the best in the world, an interactive centre, and a place to go pickup your new car.
Arriving at the Autostadt we first went to the section on clean energy. It was closing very shortly after we entered, so had to skim through it. Had a quick bite to eat at the cafeteria, then headed to the design symposium.
I was super stoked about this part, especially with my love of design. Unfortunately it was much more mainstream then I would have liked, but for what they were doing it made a lot of sense. It started with showing how cars are still designed using clay. Machines carve out the majority of the shape. From here designers can sculpt the car, and slightly tweak and change things to get the look and those sexy car lines just right. They start with smaller versions for initial concepts. This is of course after many many drawings and shouting matches. In German of course.
Finally they create a life size clay version of the car. Then give it a basic plastic and paint coat, and attach wheels and other essentials so you can see the car as if it just came off the assembly line. So cool! There were a handful of other stops, but most were kind of cheesy. Still fun though.
Once done we headed over to the car vending machine. These twin 200 foot tall glass silos are used to store cars before they are picked up. Since the cars come off the assembly line at a constant rate, and the people who come to pick them up direct from the factory don't, they need somewhere to store them. A parking lot just seemed so lame. Especially with all that German engineering around. The robot arm places the cars in one of the slots.
When you come to get your car it grabs it and delivers it to you. SO COOL!
You can actually take a trip up up to the top. You ride in a little glass box as if you are a car. Placed in one of the top slots you get a great view of the VW factory. Those smoke stakes aren't the factory but their personal power plant. It's cheeper to buy coal then electricity.
Looking down the silo is also quite the view. Kind of empty. Guess the Germans are right on time to pick up their new wheels. We decided to go try out a couple ourselves.
Ashley opted for a convertible VW. Looking good babe!
We walked away from the silos and the VW pavilion.
Walking in the campus is really quite beautiful. Lots of green space and large ponds. Most of the sidewalks have a nice gentle curve to them. You can defiantly tell designers were a part of this.
Arriving in the Audi pavilion I sat in my choice of car. An Audi R8 Quattro. Not sure if it is technically qualified a "supercar" but I did feel all giddy sitting in it.
This is definitely classified a supercar. The Bugatti Veron. It is the fastest road-legal production car in the world, with a top speed of 431 km/h (268 mph). Another fantastic display of engineering and design (are you noticing a theme here). I really like this car because people told the team building it that their speed goal couldn't be reached. That the air at that speed would be more like water, and you simply couldn't push the car enough to do it. Well, they did it. HA!
One of the final exhibits was the Lamborghini pavilion. This felt more like a jump back into early grade school. Big load display, spinning car, smoke, and lasers. Oh and yes the car is mounted on the wall. An 8 year old boy would eat this up. A whole lot more show than substance. Still kind of fun.
The final stop on the day was a whirlwind tour through the museum. Cars from all throughout history, including some of the first steam powered versions. Each car had information about it, and what significance it contributed to the auto industry. Very well done. Ashley was really tired and took a break in coffee shop. Helmut and I went through at a good clip, and then left with 10min before closing.
Thank you so much Helmut for this wonderful day in Wolfsburg.

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