Stuttgart Zuffenhausen, home of Porsche, is where the dream of the perfect sports car from Ferdinand Porsche came true. And we, MBA students from Frankfurt School, were so lucky to be able to visit the Porsche factory; since Frankfurt School was the only business school this year invited to Zuffenhausen.
After almost three-hour-driving from Frankfurt we finally arrived at Porsche’s HR building which lies just behind the fascinating Porsche museum. It was a great honor that the HR manager gave us a very comprehensive introduction of Porsche’s history, company profile and most importantly the spirit what is Porsche all about: intelligence and passion to perform!
Of course for MBA students this field trip is focused on networking with Porsche and getting prepared for the application later. Porsche also offered a very extensive presentation of the career entrance opportunities, including working students, internships, thesis and direct entries. Moreover, Porsche is not all about car engineering, since there are also various options in the Porsche finance and strategy departments. Interesting introduction with great insights was given by one senior strategic finance manager how the finance and controlling is managed and interacted with other departments at Porsche. This would certainly match the expertise of MBA or even other majors from Frankfurt School. “Nevertheless, whatever field were you from and whatever function are you supposed to take, you should always have passion for sports car.” Said the HR manager in a small talk during the lunch time in the canteen.
The highlight of this field trip was definitely the production plant tour that started in the Porsche museum. While crossing the road from museum to the main factory entrance, we saw a bridge which connected the Porsche body shell assembly building to the paint shop. Every single Porsche we were about to see in the assembly line later has had its journey there, up in the “air” of Zuffenhausen.
The moment we entered the Porsche plant, the impression of typical dirty and messy industrial plants was subverted. The whole plant is as clean as office and runs like a precise machine. Product and production are one unit, that’s what leads to Porsche’s success. Here in the plant, automation, technology and skilled human technicians are perfectly matched. In the engine assembly plant where 500 “heart pieces” are produced per day, up to 20 versions of the famous Porsche flat-6 engine can be assembled here under one roof. Since almost every single engine has its own specific parts, it is a big challenge to get the right part to the right place just in time. Thus Porsche has invented an automated logistic system. With this system, every single part is scanned and then loaded onto a kart with several layers. There are 21 karts in the whole engine plant following their specific routes. These intelligent karts ensure that the workers always get the parts they need at the right moment. In order to reach the maximum quality within the minimum cycle time, Porsche’s principle is to let the automation do the single but repeated operations (e.g., tighten the same type of screw 20 times) while give the sophisticated assembly steps to the skilled technicians. After assembly, all engines will be tested in a so called cold engine test. Unlike the conventional hot test using petrol, the cold test ensures the same quality of inspection without heating the engine. This does not require cooling time, therefore shortens the delivery time to the final assembly significantly.
Eventually the engines are delivered to the car assembly plant, where all the Porsche sport cars are manufactured, including the legendary 911 models, Cayman, Boxter and the hybrid car 918 Spyder. In the sub-assembly stations, the technicians assemble the sub-systems, for instance the cockpit, using the same logistic system as in the engine line. These sub-systems are then delivered to the main assembly line, which moves continuously carrying the car bodies. All the tasks in one assembly unit need to be done within five minutes. There are many displays all over the plant showing the remaining time. Although they are under extreme time pressure, the technicians seem to be very relaxed and enjoyable at their work, managing every single step of their tasks. Interestingly, every work station has some green plants, offering the workers certain home feeling. “Such details make the difference, that is, all the employees feel like home here, no matter what their functions are. This feeling gives them the passion and engagement to build the best sport cars in the world. And that’s why Porsche is so successful!” Proudly mentioned by the senior tour guide.
The main assembly line downstairs then clearly demonstrated us what is all about personalization of Porsche. Every single car moving in the line is unique: here comes a white rear-wheel drive 911 Carrera with black interior and red color brakes, following by a yellow all-wheel drive convertible 911 Turbo with red interior and yellow brakes. You can also see some other models such as Cayman and Boxter or even a cup race car in between. This is a huge challenge for the mass production in the automotive industry, especially at the so called “marriage” station where the car bodies come together with the chassis including the powertrain. If a single body does not fit on the chassis, it will cause a complete chaos in the whole plant. With the intelligent logistic and lean production system, Porsche manages this process perfectly, and yet offers customer various personalized features which usually can only be done in a manual workshop.
After this field trip, Porsche not only impress us with its design and performance, but also how it’s produced, and how the people work there. Look forward to meeting Zuffenhausen soon. Next time, hopefully as a member of the Porsche.