Ulrich Minke is currently responsible for Hungary’s largest factory construction site, but in just a few months he will take charge of the most modern automobile factory of the Audi Group. At the topping-out ceremony in Gyõr this month he spoke in detail about how the construction work is progressing and the imminent production start.
How is the construction work going?
To sum up, everything is going to plan. I can say with a very easy conscience that we will start on time. The first pre-series vehicle will be produced here this year.
When did planning for the new factory get under way?
We began the initial planning at the beginning of 2010. However, at that time the official decision regarding the site had not been made. It was decided a little later by the supervisory board of Audi AG. At the end of 2010 we began detailed planning. We could begin construction work six months later.
Do you recall when the ground-breaking was exactly?
Yes, to the day. It was exactly a year and three days ago that we received permission to start levelling the site. Right at the beginning of the shift the construction machines were standing by the site border. There was a short safety briefing and then it got under way. That was a very moving moment.
Have Hungarian suppliers also been involved in the construction work?
In the international supplier competition, roughly 75 per cent of the winning firms were Hungarian and have been assisting the construction since. That is a clear indication of the competitiveness of the Hungarian construction industry and a further sign of Audi Hungary’s trust in the Hungarian economy.
Could you give an idea of the dimensions of the construction site or your factory with a few figures?
Since the beginning of the earthworks we have moved a total of 1.5 million square metres of earth with the help of 1,500 construction workers. In March 2011 the concreting of the first foundations for the paint shop on our old site began, followed in July by those of all the other production halls, whose groundbreaking we celebrated on 7 July last year. Since then 4,300 piles were put in place with the simultaneous use of up to 50 cranes. Some 160,000 square metres of concrete have been poured and 35,000 tons of steel used. Around 5.5 kilometres of conveyor technology, 30 kilometres of pipes and 500 kilometres of wiring will be used in the complete factory.
What is the level of readiness?
Today on the day of the topping-out ceremony the key elements of the new automobile factory are ready: the paint shop, the body shop, the assembly shop and the power centre. The foundations and the impressive 1.6-metre-thick floor plate of the pressing plant are already in place. My colleagues are now working on completion of the front of the building and the roof construction. Even now the production area of Audi Hungaria has roughly doubled.
When will series production kick off?
We will begin next year as planned. In the future we aim to produce 500 vehicles daily, resulting in an annual volume of 125,000 Audis. They will be fully produced from body construction and painting to final assembly, including all accompanying processes such as quality assurance, logistics and pre-series construction.
What modern technological solutions will be used?
To be able to produce sustainably in Gyõr and be competitive internationally in the long term in Gyõr, we have always focused on the use of the most modern technologies during planning. For example the halls have a flexible, future-oriented and expandable factory layout. It is also worth highlighting the so-called space framework of the roof construction of our halls. The roof-bearing pillars, uniquely, can be placed almost anywhere in the 520-metre-long assembly hall. That enables us to react optimally to changes in the production process and the use of new production techniques.
What kind of techniques are you thinking of?
We are building, for example, a state-of-the-art 81,000-kilonewton servo press, which will have a daily output of roughly 20,000 parts. Of course this press will also have recuperation, which means that the braking energy released will be reused in accelerating the moving parts of the press. Our pressing plant will be not only quiet but also very energy-efficient. As soon as the automobile parts arrive from the new pressing plant, they are joined to the car bodies using up to 620 robots in material-flexible bodywork construction. Aluminium and steel sheets are processed in a joint chassis line. We are also equipping the new paint shop with the most modern technology. But what we are really proud of is the installed environmental technology. Thanks to re-circulated air operation with dry scrubbing, waste-air purification at our factory will be the most environmentally friendly in the industry. We will create 600 jobs per shift in the factory from next year on six assembly line sections and will be able to produce varying models and bodywork forms on one line thanks to flexible systems engineering. In conclusion, the new automobile factory in these buildings will be one of the cleanest in the entire industry. It will set a new benchmark for efficiency and sustainability.
How many jobs will be created in the factory?
In order to be able to make full use of the new capacity, Audi Hungaria will create 2,100 new jobs here in the automobile factory in the coming months. Since the beginning of the construction work we have been qualifying the first new employees for the demanding tasks ahead. We have set up a project and training centre at the Audi Academy specifically for that purpose. So far we have trained more than 900 employees for a total of over 100,000 hours. We have made available EUR 9 million thus far for the investment in our employees. Following the production start of the automobile factory next year we will employ a total of over 10,000 people at Audi Hungaria, to whom we offer long-term, secure jobs. During the financial crisis in 2009 we were able to secure all appointments and have since established Audi Hungaria as Hungary’s most attractive employer. We also would like to use that trust in social projects as part of our corporate social responsibility. Last week the first department supported by Audi Hungary opened at the Széchenyi István University in Gyõr. Further such initiatives are already planned by Audi Hungaria and are designed to strengthen further the positive ties with Hungary and Gyõr.
What vehicles will you produce?
From 2012 we will produce the first A3 Saloon series vehicles. Next we will manage four production launches in just over a year and a half and do our utmost to meet the planned deadlines. We will meet all those challenges together with our highly motivated Gyõr colleagues and in close collaboration with our colleagues from the Audi Group. We committed ourselves to that at the groundbreaking and will fulfil that commitment. Today’s milestone is in particular the merit of our colleagues in construction, who erected the buildings in record time, while always meeting Audi’s high quality requirements.
What changes would you like to see to the general conditions?
One topic on which we are still in talks with the Hungarian government is training. We would like a real dual training for our skilled workers according to the German model. Such training exists in Hungary but the theoretical part is too great and the practical part too little. We would like to see more emphasis on the practical side.
What do you think of the planned legal changes in this field?
The new law points in the right direction for us but we are working to make even further progress. We have also greatly expanded our own training. We have added six more training courses. In total we provide training in 13 professions, six of which are automobile-specific.
What is your view regarding the predictability of the legal conditions?
The large number of new laws is surprising to me. That is an indication of the hard work of the Parliament but it also creates work for us. However, there have not been any regulations passed that would dramatically disturb us or cause us setbacks.
When did you begin living in Gyõr?
I’ve been living here since the beginning of last July. Naturally I was also in Gyõr for shorter periods from the end of 2010 onwards in connection with our project. I was here on several occasions in the run-up to Audi TT in 1998 and 1999. Living here is very pleasant and very beautiful. What is really striking is how incredibly friendly and helpful the people are, whether it be in the neighbourhood or in the shops. There is also such an atmosphere in the factory that makes working here very agreeable.