Porsche’s Contribution to the Volkswagen Group’s New Digital Production Platform

Marc Geckeler, IT Program Manager at Porsche, tells the story of Volkswagens Digital Production Platform — how Porsches contributed to leading the way from heterogeneous IT Environments to a Cloud-based Industrial Ecosystem.

The Volkswagen Group is developing a new Digital Production Platform, and Porsche has been involved in this process from the very beginning. But how did we get there? This particular story starts in 2018, when I sat down with my former boss Sven Lorenz, then CIO at Porsche, in his office to discuss emerging technology trends such as machine learning, cloud computing, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things.

Porsche’s Contribution to the Volkswagen Group’s New Digital Production Platform
Porsche’s Contribution to the Volkswagen Group’s New Digital Production Platform

Our initial idea was to establish an industrial platform that would help Porsche transform its two production plants in Zuffenhausen and Leipzig into smart factories. Yet shortly after that, Martin Hofmann, CIO of the Volkswagen Group, presented his vision for the new Digital Production Platform. Suddenly, we were no longer talking just about Porsche and two factories in Germany, but about 12 brands from seven European countries and 122 production plants around the world. We realized that Porsche couldn’t solve that problem on its own. Close collaboration was necessary to make this happen!

Introducing Volkswagen’s Industrial Cloud

As one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers, the Volkswagen Group is heavily involved in digital transformation. Digitalization is not only changing the car itself, but it’s also transforming how we build it. In fact, the Volkswagen Group is now much more than an automotive manufacturer. We’re on the way to becoming a tech and software-enabled car company and are working hard to continue to be at the forefront of innovation.

However, we can no longer continue to simply focus on organizational structures and processes only on the brand level or the local level. To make our group and our brands fit for the future, we also have to look at these structures and processes on a global level. As challenges increase in scope and complexity, collaboration becomes ever more important. This means that we have, on the one hand, to better exploit existing synergies in and between divisions and regions and, on the other, to create new ones. And that’s where our new Digital Production Platform comes in.

It’s one of Volkswagen’s major goals to improve manufacturing and logistics performance by 30% and to reduce the environmental impact of production by 45% over the next 5 years. However, it would have been nearly impossible to achieve these goals under previously existing conditions. Not only have there been differences between individual plants, but we’ve also been dealing with highly fragmented IT environments. It has not been uncommon for single plants to work with dozens of different IT systems. Thus, Volkswagen prompted the industrial cloud initiative. And at Porsche, we were fortunate that the initiative aligned with our idea to establish a new industrial platform.

Porsche’s Contribution to the Volkswagen Group’s New Digital Production Platform
Porsche’s Contribution to the Volkswagen Group’s New Digital Production Platform

From Heterogeneous IT Environments to a Cloud-Based Industrial Ecosystem: The Digital Production Platform

Until recently, many different IT systems have been used for manufacture, production and logistic processes. In fact, the last two decades have brought a multitude of new digital tools, machinery and IT systems to the Volkswagen group. This has increasingly led to complex, heterogeneous and fragmented IT environments and sometimes even a lack of transparency and a lot of unnecessary overlap and duplication. We were therefore faced with the challenge of how to control and manage all these different systems, reduce local complexity and enhance overall efficiency.

We realized that we needed an industrial ecosystem — a uniform architecture for all the Volkswagen Group brands and plants. That’s why we’ve decided to build what we call the Digital Production Platform, a global cloud-based and use case-driven industry platform that connects all production facilities in the Volkswagen Group. Providing a standardized data layer as well as standardized device connectivity, it will remove major barriers and enable seamless and integrated information flow between different levels of production and different regions. This will help us gather and synchronize data from all machines and systems in all our plants in real-time and, in addition, provide us with new insights into production processes. Our new platform consists of data, device, and analytics services and will also help us develop standardized and scalable apps.

The factory of the future — smart, lean and green

Porsche’s Role in Developing the Digital Production Platform

This is really the first time that Porsche has joined forces with other brands from the Volkswagen Group as well as an external partner, namely Amazon Web Services. I have to admit I used to be rather skeptical about cross-brand and cross-departmental collaboration and previously regarded it as something that slowed us down. But this project is different, and it forced me to change my mind. Collaboratively building a platform for the entire group does not mean that Porsche has to compromise on expectations of perfection. Rather, it means that we can focus on the challenges specific to our brand and develop elements that will benefit everyone.

Porsche has been involved in the development process of the platform from the very beginning. Mattias Ulbrich, CIO at Porsche and Leader Group-IT Production, is now in charge of this project. In 2019, we helped to develop and set up the platform. Data security was an important topic right from the start. Three other areas have also been of particular importance for our team, which currently consists of around 30 people: (1) device connectivity, (2) image recognition and (3) the new platform’s integration with SAP solutions.

We’ve started with simple and re-usable use cases and will increase complexity over time. Porsche is currently responsible for the onboarding of a new label detection solution in 15 plants. Furthermore, in 2020, the Digital Production Platform will be implemented in Porsche’s production plants in Zuffenhausen and Leipzig, with whom we’re working very closely.

We’ve recently conducted a workshop to smooth this process and maintain full transparency for everyone involved. To that end, we have also organized a hackathon with partners from AWS, SAP and colleagues from the Volkswagen group, which takes place this week. Our entire team takes part in it. Of course, we’re also working closely with the Volkswagen DPP core team in Berlin and continue to contribute to the core project.

A Strategic Alliance with Amazon Web Services

The Digital Production Platform, which is at the core of the Volkswagen Industrial Cloud, not only promises significant productivity improvements and reduced costs in all our plants; it is also the base for future innovation and new business models. Eventually, all our suppliers will connect to the Volkswagen cloud. That’s why it is designed as an open platform. Going forward, this will also allow us to build up a network of industrial partners.

As already mentioned, both the Digital Production Platform and the Volkswagen Cloud have been developed in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), whose culture of innovation will allow us to positively impact our group’s performance. As Porsche CEO Oliver Blume said, “We will continue to strengthen production as a key competitive factor for the Volkswagen Group. Our strategic collaboration with Amazon Web Services will lay the foundation.”

A Strategic Alliance with Amazon Web Services
A Strategic Alliance with Amazon Web Services

In creating a strategic alliance with AWS, we’ve broken the mould of the traditional OEM-supplier relationship. Our partnership is based on a shared vision and a collaborative approach.

The alliance is a true game-changer because it allows two leading companies in the fields of automotive and technology to team up and jointly work on a highly complex project, combining our group’s expertise in automotive manufacturing with AWS’s speed of innovation.

Marc Geckeler is IT Program Manager at Porsche.
Marc Geckeler

Marc Geckeler is IT Program Manager at Porsche.

About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products and think digital with focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It´s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies and the people that drive our digital journey. Please follow us on Twitter (Porsche Digital, Next Visions), Instagram (Porsche Digital, Next Visions, Porsche Newsroom) and LinkedIn (Porsche AG, Porsche Digital) for more.

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