I'm no stranger to Mercedes-AMG's "One Man, One Engine" assembly plant, where every AMG engine is hand-assembled by a single individual. But upon entering a closed-off area on a higher floor, I would've thought that I'd walked through a portal into an alternate dimension.
It's quiet. It's clean. The usual morass of power cables and tools and parts bins are notably absent. Yet, this Bizarro World isn't an anomaly -- instead, this little corner of the facility in Affalterbach is dedicated to a brand spankin' new method for assembling . The automaker wanted a new production method for its new four-pot, and boy howdy, it cooked up a doozy. Best of all, we're bound to see more of it going forward.
Mercedes-AMG says it's a mixture of the company's "One Man, One Engine" philosophy and "Industry 4.0," which is just a fancy way of saying the automaker is adding more digitalization and newfangled tech to its manufacturing routine.
A 'shopping cart,' a trolley and not much else
The standard assembly in Affalterbach involves one engineer pushing a wheeled stand, to which the engine is bolted, around the facility while plucking necessary parts from nearby bins and returning to affix everything according to a very specific procedure. AMG's new process simplifies that even further by reducing the process down to two main components: The trolley and the shopping cart.
The trolley is where the action happens. The engine bolts to this cart, which contains the tools and equipment needed to build the engine. It has no cables of its own, relying on an internal power source. The trolley is capable of monitoring the entire process through an integrated tablet, ensuring the engineer takes the correct steps in the correct order.
Even the tools are given a dash of 21st-century tech. Whereas the old process used a rat king of tools dangling from overhead power cables, everything's wireless now. The tools themselves are more capable, too -- a simple driver, for example, is capable of determining its exact location on the engine and setting the torque to match the part it's fastening. It's done using an "indoor GPS" system that's capable of some incredible precision.
The second half of the equation is called the shopping cart. Non-M139 AMG engines are still assembled with the help of a shopping cart, named as such because its job is to hold the relevant bits required for putting everything together, but the M139's shopping cart has been turned up to 11. All parts sorting has been pushed to the logistics side, which means this new shopping cart requires no additional trips to parts bins during the assembly process -- every piece, from start to finish, is already loaded into the cart, a move that AMG says can save up to 15 minutes of walking per employee per shift.
The shopping cart mounts on an automated transport system that looks like an electric boogie board. It will autonomously follow the trolley from station to station, and when its job is complete, it will drop the shopping cart off to be refilled while it returns to a depot to charge up for its next gig. The transporters glide quietly along the factory floor, stopping for the occasional errant journalist standing in its way before shuffling off to the next task.
Since AMG is all about motorsport-derived performance, there's a little bit of fun in the area's design. The shopping carts have clever little sayings on them, like "Start your engine," while the edges of the facility have been painted with red and white stripes to resemble a racetrack. It's a clean-sheet approach to building an engine, and it's unlike anything I've seen from any other automaker.
Patience is a virtue
Considering how much advancement is layered into this cake, it didn't seem odd for me to ask if Mercedes-AMG was capable of converting its entire factory to this new process, given its perceived benefits. I've been told that, while it is certainly possible, it would be prohibitively expensive to retrofit old engines to match all the newness.
Thus, future shifts in Affalterbach will probably happen as new engines enter the AMG family. Until then, if you're one of the lucky ducks who will soon have the M139 in your driveway, know that it was built in a room that seems like it was phase-shifted into place from the future.
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