A Visit to Rastatt – April 2005
During a recent touring holiday in France and Germany, we made a small diversion to Rastatt. For those that don’t know, Rastatt is where Daimler Chrysler produces the Mercedes A-Class. Rastatt is about half way between Strasbourg and Stuttgart.
The factory is well sign-posted as you get near to Rastatt. We then followed the signs to a large visitors car park that is directly opposite the main visitor centre pictured above.
Outside the building, most of the Mercedes model range was on display.
On arrival we were made most welcome, by the reception staff, who confirmed our visit and issued tickets for our 14:30 tour of the factory. We arrived had arrived a little early, so whilst waiting we were able to look at the exhibits on display.
The picture above shows a prototype/concept sports car
The picture above shows a prototype/concept city car
The picture above shows Kimi’s FI car
Many Mercedes customers choose to order their new Mercedes A-class, then collect and drive it away from the Rastatt factory
The picture above shows customers checking their cars, before driving them away. Whilst we were there, this area was very busy, with cars continuously entering and leaving the building.
In the top right-hand corner of this picture, a black A200 with white leather interior was on display. The interior finish of this car really did look worthy of a top model!
We then made our way to the start of the factory tour. Unfortunately, cameras were not permitted.
The tour started at 14:30 prompt, and we were shown a film about the history of Mercedes, unfortunately this was in German. (English version normal shown at 11:30) Our tour guide gave us all earpieces, which she could talk to us via a radio microphone. She spoke excellent English and relayed the tour in both English and German.
We then got on to a large Mercedes coach that took us around the plant. The factory produces 1000 cars per day, 24 hours a day 5 days a week. There are 6000 people employed by Daimler Chrysler and another 2000 people employed by 9 major suppliers with factories on the same site. The engines and gearboxes are made by Mercedes at the Stuttgart plant and are delivered by lorry. It takes 8 hours to build an A-class from start to finish, but the body is held in a holding area for 16 hours to allow the various coats of paint to dry.
As the coach took us around the exterior of the factory we passed by a large roofed area with many new cars parked awaiting deliver via transporters to dealers around the world.
The coach then drove into a factory building and we all got off. On entering the building we went up a flight of stairs that lead to a polished wood walk way above the production finishing area. In this finishing area the painted car bodies arrived and the interior trim, engines, transmission and under frames were married with the body. At the end of the line the completed cars were driven away. At various stages of the production the car entered into a quality control areas. In these QA areas the cars were checked and signed off by experienced colleagues. Our guide seemed to put high importance to these QA areas, I got the impression that was a new idea; I suspect they had been running self-inspection during assembly of the previous model.
Note; all staff are called either Colleagues, or Engineers.
There were some 34 robots in the production area all made by the same robot manufacturer. Our tour guide informed us the Mercedes liked to build long-term relationships with its suppliers, preferably in the locality of the factory, pointing out that a breakdown of a robot would stop the whole plant.
We were informed that all parts arriving to the line are not just in time but also at exactly the right time. The parts all arrived in reusable plastic boxes, no paper or cardboard is accepted, and it is the suppliers’ responsibility to ensure parts are delivered correctly. I asked what happens if a part is not available at the line, I was told this couldn’t happen, it is unacceptable.
We watched the windows of the car being fitted by robot; the glass arrived at the line and was placed on a bench, a colleague applied a sealant by hand. Our tour guide informed us that their Engineers had studied the operations, and they had concluded that a human best carried out this one! The robot then picked up the glass and placed it on an x-y positioning table, which positioned the glass by laser. It was then picked up the fitted onto the car body in exactly the correct place.
We were then shown a complete un-painted new A-class car body (W169). Looking at the construction of the floor, I suspect the reason the new W169 does not have the flat floor of the W168, is that they have put in conversional sills to improve side crash protection.
I noticed that most of interior trim was black; apparently this is the most popular interior colour in Germany. I asked if one ordered an unusual colour, say white leather, would the factory wait and build a batch of white leather interiors? I was told no, they build on demand of an order.
The most popular exterior colours are silver at number one (30%) and closely followed by black at number two.
We then returned to the coach and a continued our tour; we drove past a building and were informed that this was the Engineers building. Parked outside was a new B-class, our tour guide told us that this was a pre-production model and that production of the B-class would start in June along side the A-class.
That concluded our tour, all members of my family enjoyed the tour, and I can thoroughly recommend a visit, it’s a real eye opener.
Thanks to David for the pictures and article.