The Mercedes-Benz plant in Untertürkheim: Ten Years of the Untertürkheim In-Line Engine Plant

Jul 18, 2008
  • More than 3.3 million engines produced
  • Numerous awards for production quality
  • New diesel engine generation soon to be launched
Stuttgart – On July 24, 2008, the Untertürkheim in-line engine plant will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its commissioning. Throughout its ten years of existence, the plant has repeatedly demonstrated its performance capability within Daimler AG’s global production network. Untertürkheim is where the CDI diesel engine began its march to success, setting new standards for self-igniters with its common rail direct injection system. Today, the in-line engine plant produces four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars worldwide. It also manufactures more than 200,000 cylinder heads each year for use in commercial vehicles.
“The time has come to celebrate together what we’ve achieved together”, says Heinz-Werner Marx, head of the Engine Product Performance Center in Untertürkheim. “On July 18, we will celebrate our anniversary with around 600 employees, and the party will take place at precisely the location where we achieve outstanding performance every day – right on the factory floor.”
The Untertürkheim in-line engine plant, which is located on Benzstraße right at Daimler headquarters, has produced more than 2.3 million diesel engines and around one million gasoline engines since 1998. The facility’s success is reflected not only by these high production numbers but also by numerous quality awards, the most recent of which was the Factory of the Year award from the Produktion business magazine and the A.T. Kearney consulting firm in the category “Outstanding Shop Floor Management.”
Together with the engine production facility for A- and B-Class models in Untertürkheim, and the V engine plant in Bad Cannstatt, the Untertürkheim in-line engine plant forms a production network that manufactures more than a million engines each year for vehicle assembly plants in Bremen, Sindelfingen, Rastatt, and Tuscaloosa (U.S.).
Then and now
Back in 1904, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft moved its headquarters from Bad Cannstatt to nearby Untertürkheim, thereby laying the groundwork for the eventual construction of today’s Untertürkheim plant. It was here in the birthplace of the automobile that the in-line engine plant went into operation in 1998 after four production halls that already existed at the site were transformed into an integrated manufacturing facility on Benzstraße. This conversion posed a huge challenge for the project’s planners and architects, as space at the site was at a premium, as it still is today. Some 900 million marks were invested in the project. “This investment project,” said the Untertürkheim plant manager at the time, Herman Haug, “has enabled us to create the capacity we will need for the future.”
Nothing but the best quality
The in-line engine plant has been successfully shaping that future ever since, as Heinz-Werner Marx, head of the Engine Product Performance Center, reports: “Our most important task is to combine state-of-the-art engine technology with the highest levels of quality and efficiency by consistently focusing on our core processes and process standardization. This will not only enable us to maintain Mercedes-Benz’ top position in the industry; it will also safeguard the future of the production location in the Neckar Valley.”
Marx and his team have taken an unconventional approach to achieving this goal. For example, Marx has set up so-called statistic corners near the production lines for discussing the latest quality results and rapidly implementing measures for improving quality. He’s obviously doing something right, as the engine production at the plant has received several awards for its shop floor management system. The continual improvement of production processes also generates huge cost-reduction potential, which is a key element of competitiveness. “We optimize our processes for as long as it takes to eliminate costly reworking,” says Marx. “After all, our customers expect – and deserve – nothing but the best quality.”
Close proximity
The in-line engine plant is closely linked with all areas of the overall Untertürkheim production facility. The close proximity of these cross functional departments here makes possible a constant exchange of information with the Research and Development units that are also located at the facility. This results in quick decision-making processes and rapid implementation of new technological solutions. The plant’s high level of production quality is also ensured over the long term through its proximity to suppliers, plant engineering firms, and service companies. Short distances also benefit the factory in terms of logistics, as supplier logistics centers consolidate various activities and the Central Distribution department at the nearby Neckarhafen handles the timely delivery of components to vehicle production plants worldwide.
New perspectives
Reducing fuel consumption and emissions, flexible use of engines in different vehicle types, and rising quality standards: The demands made of modern drive systems are subject to dynamic changes that manifest themselves most strongly in engine design. A total of 11 gasoline and diesel engine types have been produced at the in-line engine plant since its establishment, including the legendary CDI engines that put diesels on the path to global success.
The plant is currently preparing for the production launch of a new generation of diesel engines this fall. A new cylinder head and crankcase production hall with a total area of 17,000 square meters has already been built, and the in-line engine plant will also be cooperating for the first time ever with a facility outside of Stuttgart, as final assembly of the engines will be carried out in the town of Kölleda by Daimler’s wholly owned MDC Power GmbH subsidiary.
People and engines
While it is true that modern engine production requires the use of high-tech machines, the fact remains that the type of results produced by the in-line engine plant could never have been achieved without the skill and dedication of the individuals responsible for ensuring that all processes run smoothly. All employees are therefore incorporated into process, goal-related and decision-making activities. Here, project-related group work across all hierarchies, plus a high level of transparency and openness and excellent communication, ensure that all members of staff can contribute to the plant’s success.