What is it?
The Brand Immersion Experience is designed to bring over 26,000 Mercedes-Benz employees to the factory in Vance, Alabama. Over the course of two days, employees receive an immersion into Mercedes-Benz brand culture, including a factory tour, classroom training, and off-road experience and driving at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. You may remember that Erik went back in the fall, and Sable had the opportunity last week.
After spending all day at CVG due to flight cancellations and delays, I finally made it to Birmingham at roughly 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Day 1 commenced at 7 a.m. for breakfast and then we were split into our groups (Sea, Air, Land). Like Erik, I ended up in the Land group. Once on the bus we were headed to the MB USI Training Center.
Inside the training center we did a few activities and met our facilitators for the next few days: Christie and Johannes. Both fantastic leaders and enthusiasts for the brand. Land group immediately hopped the bus and headed to the factory tour; however, the factory is a designated International Trade Zone, so we were unable to take pictures on the inside.
Way back there, above the trees, you can make out the factory. MB USI produces some 200,000 cars a year. These cars, produced in the 5,000,000 sq. ft. factory, travel more than 6 miles over a span of 3 days before they roll off the production line. Shipped to over 130 markets worldwide, these cars are processed by 1,700 robots and touched by over 500 human hands.
The factory in Vance, AL., produces the ML, GL, C-Class, R-Class and new GLE models.
The factory can put out 1,200 cars a day, which means every 90 seconds a car rolls off the assembly line. Every car is built because of an order, rather than mass production and handing dealerships however many cars MB USA thinks is good.
A lot of this is made possible by the incredible Kuka Robotics systems in place. At 10 ft. tall, with the ability to life 1.2 tons, the Kuka can select, identify and install parts. When the factory first opened in 1997 there were only 24 Kuka’s, there are now nearly 2000.
With the ability to measure accuracy up to a nanometer, the Kuka is all about precision. In the body shop, it is assembly production only. No casting or forging takes place here, where 90% of the process is automated. At some stations the Kuka has over 300 targets to check as well as welds.
Take a look at the video below to get an idea of what the Kuka is capable of.
Reed, our tour guide, let us know that if there are ever any errors they are corrected or the car is scratched completely- there are never “repairs”.
The factory is also set up with what they call “Just In Time” which is a mechanical delivery of parts to different areas. These robots deliver parts to the machines to last them 24 hours. This way, if anything were to ever be damaged it only effects one day of production as opposed to many.
From the body shop, cars head to the paint shop, which is a pressurized environment that applies: e-coat, primer, base coat and top coat. Did you know that prior to top-coating, each body is cleaned with emu feathers on rotating rollers to remove the finest dust?
After the paint shop, the cars head to Assembly, which is the opposite of the body shop: 90% hands on interaction and only 10% automated.
The factory, much to my surprise, is a 0 landfill site and contributes no waste! Incredible, when you consider how the large the facility is! From paper to plastic caps, there is a container with a flyer about why recycling this product is important.
To say that the factory tour was impressive would be an understatement. The attention to detail for each and every car is astounding, and adds up to a total of some 15,000 parts- double the average car.