Daimler's Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen has successfully trialled autonomous driving between final assembly line and loading area, a distance of 1.5km.
Cameras, together with radar and ultrasonic sensors ensured the S-Class made it.
Production chief Markus Schafer said the flagship sedan was "on the road to automated driving. The S-Class's independent journey from the production line to the plant's loading area shows the future of how we will be able to use driver assistance systems in production.
"Perhaps, in the not too distant future, a car will even find its own way from the production line to its new owner."
Sindelfingen, which recently began building the updated S-class, is currently piloting the possible use of the system for series production and investigating its further potential. The finished vehicles are currently driven from the assembly halls to the loading car parks by employees. A shuttle service then brings them back to their starting point. The pilot test provides an opportunity to gather practical experience for the future of autonomous driving on public roads, which can be used in for further development, Daimler said.
Autonomous vehicles are also used in production. The flexible delivery of small load carriers to the production line is ensured by a system known as FLOW (Flexible Logistics Optimised Warehouse). This new driverless picking system provides the supply of materials to the production line as and when they are needed. The whole system is currently part of a pilot test that aims to validate the system for series production.
The carriers are transported autonomously around the shop floor via a guidance system with reference magnets embedded in the hall floor and can be automatically allocated to any specific storage shelf. Laser scanners help prevent potential collisions.
The 'shopping basket' contains parts and components required to fulfil the specific customer order and then is delivered directly and completely automatically to the line, negating the need to keep materials stored on shelves. This creates more space around the assembly lines, reduces walking distances and keeps the workstations tidier and more ergonomic.
VaMoS (Variables Montagesystem, or Variable Assembly System) is a new, variable assembly system comprised of mobile platforms which are synchronised with the production line to carry a worker and his or her tools alongside the vehicle being produced. The technology, developed by Daimler, improves the ergonomics of the task, and can also reduce manufacturing time and the time spent by the worker to get from one job to the next.
A recent addition helping to improve the ergonomics for the workforce is the ErgoSkid. This fully automatic device raises the vehicles on the assembly line by 26cm and then lowers them again. Employees working on the installation of the cable harnesses for the floor assembly benefit from this ergonomic improvement.
Automatic fitting of sealing plugs is currently being tested: an intelligent lightweight robot inserts them in the underbody. Until now this was done by staff having to perform overhead work on the vehicle.