At Audi’s most flexible plant, in Neckarsulm, Germany, the driver-side airbags are named after girls, while the steering wheels have boys’ names. Other components are designated according to seasons or places: anything to make it easier for shop floor workers to remember when sorting and installing them.
While a robot could read any of their 12-digit product identification codes in a microsecond, auto executives say the machines could not deal with the enormous complexity facing their human colleagues, who assemble six model lines and 21 vehicle derivatives at the plant.
“Today it would be impossible to add all the sensors necessary to replace the human sense of touch,” Audi production boss Hubert Waltl said. “People can reach into a box and without looking immediately recognize a larger part from a smaller one.”