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100 years: Mercedes-Benz Mannheim
11.10.2008 - 00:00

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100 years: Mercedes-Benz Mannheim
  • Official opening on October 12, 1908
  • Around 7.5 million commercial vehicle engines since 1949
  • By 1960: Europe’s largest commercial vehicle plant
  • Innovative methods in bus design


New home for Benz & Cie.: Drawing of the plant at Mannheim-Luzenberg, c. 1909.

For Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz Mannheim plant, the year 2008 represents a major anniversary, for it was this very site, in the newly built plant belonging to the joint stock company Benz & Cie., Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik in Mannheim, that witnessed production start-up 100 years ago. The facility on the slopes of the Luzenberg in the suburb of Mannheim-Waldhof was officially opened on October 12, 1908. Benz & Cie. had bought the 311,000-square-meter site back in 1906, and construction work based on plans drawn up by the architect Albert Speer began in 1907. By the time of the opening ceremony, an area of around 35,000 square meters had been built on with factory buildings.

The Mannheim plant has enjoyed a highly varied career in its 100 years to 2008. This was where the first Benz passenger cars were produced, followed later by Mercedes-Benz models. Mannheim then became a commercial vehicle plant, before finally specializing in the production of buses. Other important activities include engine production and the casting of engine components. In its centenary year, the Mannheim plant is part of a historic tradition that goes back even beyond the year of its foundation. For it was in Mannheim that Carl Benz developed his two-stroke gas engine back in 1879 - a feat of engineering that was to provide the spark that would later give rise to the development of the modern automobile in 1886.


Automotive competence from Baden: Chassis and body assembly at Benz & Cie.’s Mannheim plant, c. 1910.

After several years of development work the work also accepts Mannheim for the building of aircraft engines. This and the facilities of a repair work require a clear expansion of the work. A second decisive innovation is been carried out another expansion the foundation of the education department in the year 1916. of the opening of the teaching workshop up to the year 1975 in the first year of war 1914/15. are 3424 skilled workers trained here. 1953 the Daimler-Benz AG also introduces the trade school lesson in the work.

Mannheim diesels

One of the most important innovations of the post-war era at Benz & Cie. was its work on vehicle diesel engines. The fundamental principles of this new technology were developed by the diesel pioneer Prosper L’Orange, who joined Benz as head of engine testing in 1908. He discovered the principle of pre-chamber combustion in 1909, followed by the invention of the needle injection nozzle in 1919 and in 1921 by the variable injection pump. The first land-going vehicle to be equipped with a diesel engine was also developed in Mannheim: in 1922 Benz & Cie. presented a three-wheeled tractor, developed jointly with Sendling, the Munich manufacturers of agricultural machinery. The two-cylinder Benz diesel engine gave the tractor a power output of 25 hp (18 kW).

On April 14, 1923, following the successful introduction of the diesel pre-chamber principle, Benz & Cie. decided to launch series production of a four-cylinder diesel engine. That same month, production was started on an initial series of ten units; by late August the engines were ready to be fitted to the chassis of the Benz five-ton truck. The OB 2 model initially developed 45 hp (33 kW) at 1000/min. The world’s first diesel trucks were used, among other things, as experimental vehicles for transportation at the Mannheim plant. The truck went into series production in 1924 with an increased output of 50 hp (37 kW).


Compression ignition: The Benz OB 2 four-cylinder pre-chamber diesel engine of 1923 was the first commercial vehicle diesel engine from large-scale production.

The possibility of a merger between Benz & Cie. and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) with a view to creating synergies had been considered as early as 1919. Economic circumstances in Germany at the time were anything but straightforward, with a large number of car manufacturers chasing the same customers. A joint venture remained an option initially, but after the war Benz & Cie. decided instead to carry out an internal reorganization of its operational units. The Mannheim plant took over responsibility for the production of motorized ploughs and tractors, and in 1921 the company sold off the production of stationary engines at the old plant as an independent entity trading under its own name, Motoren-Werke Mannheim (MWM).

The merger between DMG and Benz & Cie. was completed on June 28/29, 1926. To mark the occasion, publicity material highlighted the combined power of the new brand that had been forged out of the two historic firms: “Germany’s two oldest and largest automotive companies have merged with a view to pooling over 40 years of experience in automotive design, the purchase of raw materials and production equipment and an extensive field organization, and to offering customers all over the world an unbeatable range of passenger cars and commercial vehicles.”
Benz & Cie. brought to the marriage two production locations: the stockholding company Benz & Cie., Rheinische Automobil- und Motorenfabrik, Mannheim, and Benzwerke Gaggenau. DMG transferred operational management of its plants at Untertürkheim, Marienfelde and Sindelfingen to the new company.
One of the new company’s first tasks following the merger was to conduct a clean-up of the two model portfolios. This had an impact on manufacturing at the Mannheim plant, where production of the 10/30 hp and 16/50 hp passenger cars from the old program initially continued under the new brand name Mercedes-Benz, before the new Mercedes-Benz Mannheim and Mercedes-Benz Nürburg models superseded these vehicles from the Benz era. The design office for passenger cars and the corresponding test facility were moved from Mannheim to the new company headquarters in Untertürkheim.
Marriage of laurel wreath and star: The companies Benz & Cie. and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft merged in 1926. This advertisement is to promote the joint sales organization, which was established as early as 1925.

Tractors built at Mannheim also received the new name: in May 1928 the first few units of the new Mercedes-Benz OE diesel tractor rolled off the production line at the Mannheim plant. Offered as a vehicle for road and agricultural use, the tractor featured a water-cooled, horizontally mounted one-cylinder diesel engine that worked on the pre-combustion principle. Output of the large, 4.2-liter, single-cylinder unit was 26 hp (19 kW), achieved at just 800/min.


Mercedes-Benz OE diesel-engined tractor, road going version, 1928.

During this period of global economic crisis, the number of passenger cars built at Mannheim fell with equal rapidity. From 1,955 cars in 1929, production dropped back to 1,221 (1930), 515 (1931) and then 315 (1932). Nevertheless, the plant managed to escape full closure. On October 1, 1932, Berliner Börsenzeitung reported: “No closure of Daimler-Benz facilities in Mannheim for the time being.” Although consideration had been given to relocating production to Untertürkheim, the Ministry of the Interior for Baden intervened successfully. For the duration of the crisis the foundry was closed, however, and did not reopen until 1933.
The automotive industry as a whole received massive political support with the rise to power of the National Socialists early in 1933. Among other things, this led to a very speedy recovery of the employment situation at the Mannheim plant. That same year the plant was back to full employment and producing the two Mercedes-Benz Mannheim and Nürburg models. A new addition to the program was a 1.5-ton delivery van. And engines for commercial vehicles, boats, locomotives and tractors continued to play an important role in plant production. Finally, in 1937, the Mannheim plant also began truck production.

The outbreak of the Second World War changed the situation of the Mannheim plant completely. The army forced operations to be switched to authorized production of the Opel three-ton truck. Demand for such vehicles during the war years was extremely high. For the Mannheim plant, the Second World War ended on March 23, 1945, when it was occupied by American troops. By this point, air raids had destroyed about 20 percent of all production facilities, and bombs had fallen on almost a quarter of the area. Following the occupation of the plant, a large area at the southern end of the premises was confiscated for use by the American occupying forces.

Production of the three-ton L 701 truck started again at the Mannheim plant in June 1945, making Mannheim the first plant belonging to Daimler-Benz AG to resume activities after the war. At the same time as building this version of the Opel Blitz under license, work began on reconstructing the plant. But the years of shortages after the Second World War made production and new development difficult. Then summer 1949 witnessed the debut of the new Mercedes-Benz L 3250 truck - an event that laid the foundations for the development of the modern Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles program. Many saw the L 3250 as the vehicle that inspired the rise of Mercedes-Benz to its position as European market leader for medium-duty trucks.


In 1949, the new OM 300 diesel engine series for commercial vehicles made its debut in the Mercedes-Benz L 3250 truck

First bus of the post-war era

It was a most unusual Christmas present: the first bus built at Mannheim in the post-war era - an O 3500 model - left production on December 24, 1949. From now on Mannheim took over some of the responsibility for bus production from Sindelfingen. The bus’s engine, an OM 312, belonged to the new series of engines launched in Mannheim that same year.
In May 1949, the new bus was presented as the O 3250, since it was based on the corresponding truck model. Adopting the traditional approach, the bus body was mounted onto a truck chassis. Then in 1950 the bus was launched under the designation O 3500.


Equipped for all eventualities: An all-weather Mercedes-Benz O 3500 from the Mercedes-Benz Mannheim plant, 1953.

Mercedes-Benz eventually concentrated its entire bus production at Mannheim in March 1951. Construction of the O 5000 was discontinued in Sindelfingen, and production of the O 6600 was switched to Mannheim. But Mannheim also continued to build medium-duty trucks, including the L 4500, which made its debut in 1953 at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. This 4.5-tonner was a useful addition to the Mannheimers’ truck range alongside the popular 3.5-ton L 3500.


Big boys: Assembly of LA 3500 trucks in Building 12 of the Mannheim plant in October 1954.

New approaches to bus design
Mannheim was responsible for the first bus to be built according to an entirely new design in 1954, the O 321 H. This vehicle featured a frame floor assembly welded to the body to form a self-supporting entity - in common with passenger car design. Tribute was paid to this approach by the designers in Hans Pohl’s biography of Mercedes-Benz buses, where he referred to it as “an emancipation from the truck”. In contrast to the old method of combining chassis and bus body, this so-called semi-integral design approach, involving a highly rigid frame floor unit and welded body, offered greater stability and increased space.

By 1955, Mannheim was already Europe’s largest bus plant. During this period around 8,500 employees were engaged in the production of buses, trucks and engines. The focus of vehicle design was therefore shifting ever further towards the bus. Mercedes-Benz finally decided to abandon truck production at Mannheim in 1965 and to move it completely to Wörth. Back in 1960, Daimler-Benz AG had purchased industrial premises covering an area of 1.5 million square meters at Wörth near Karlsruhe, with a view to building the new truck assembly plant there. Construction work got under way in 1962, and the first truck - an LP 608 - came off the production line in July 1965.


Home of the bus: Photograph of a press reception to mark the launch of the Mercedes-Benz O 321 H model in Mannheim on December 6, 1954.

The launch of the first modern large-capacity bus by Mercedes-Benz also played a part in the Mannheim bus success story. The O 317 made its debut at the 1957 IAA, and production of the 12-meter-long vehicle began in 1958. The O 317 had room for 120 passengers and was designed specifically for regular service use. From 1958 onward, the O 317 also became the basis for the Mercedes-Benz articulated bus. This was the designers’ answer to the ban on bus operators using tractors and trailers.

There are special chasses of the O 317. for articulated buses, 1 ½-deck busr and biplane You are a reaction to the ban as an area car of semitrailer busses and bus trailers. In the course of his career a shorter variant with a 11.3 meters length as well as a country bus join with baggage rooms. Bodyworker changing for the O 317 even into coaches equipped luxuriously.


Mercedes-Benz O 317 as an 1 ½-deck busr eternal with bodywork of company Ludewig from Essen

The largest commercial vehicle plant on the continent
50 years after the official opening of the plant at Mannheim-Waldhof, the Benz factory became an international center of competence for commercial vehicles. The production shops covered an area of approximately 200,000 square meters, and from the early 1960s they were turning out trucks and buses that were regarded all over the world as high-quality, efficient and reliable carriers of people and goods.

A new component of this model plant was the foundry, opened by Mercedes-Benz in Mannheim in 1965. Construction work had begun on this facility in 1962, and when it was opened the foundry was considered the most advanced facility of its kind in Europe. With a daily casting capacity of 300 tons, Mannheim was able to produce crankcases and cylinder heads for commercial vehicle engines, as well as meeting some of the engine requirements for Untertürkheim.

December 1968 saw the production launch of the first O 305 standard regular service buses at Mannheim. This represented the beginning of a new era of bus design at Mercedes-Benz, since touring coaches and service buses were now built in separate model series. Other new buses included the O 307 standard regular-service interurban bus (STÜLB), which was built in Mannheim from February 1973, and the new O 303 touring coach. This expansion of the product portfolio was possible largely thanks to the increase of production capacity in 1970. By this time the Mannheim plant was producing 240 complete buses and the same number of bus chassis per month.


Mercedes-Benz O 305

1970 was also the year Mercedes-Benz celebrated topping-out ceremonies for two new production halls next to the foundry. In line with the restructuring of commercial vehicle production, the plant would now focus on producing cast iron for engines, assembly of commercial vehicle engines and above all bus production. And Mannheim needed both new halls for the engines. The buildings had a combined total floor space of 87,800 square meters. Plans were to produce 8,500 engines per month here in future, since Mannheim was to take over central engine production for Mercedes-Benz’s entire commercial vehicle division. Among the engines produced here were the new generation of commercial vehicle diesel engines, the OM 400 series, built from 1972 onwards.


Continued success for Mercedes-Benz Motorenwerk Mannheim: Assembly of the OM 457 series. Photograph from 2007.

Advent of robotic colleagues
But 1978 also saw the advent of a truly groundbreaking innovation. For the first time paint robots were introduced to the processing of commercial vehicle engines at the Mannheim plant. The machines learned their jobs by means of the “teach-in” method in which a paint worker guided the robot arm through each step of the painting process. The stages for each individual engine were then saved to magnetic storage so that they could be called up later as required. Robotic spray-painting was introduced for the 300 series in 1978, and soon afterwards the same labor-saving innovation was also introduced for the 400 engine family.
Despite the arrival of these first robots, the vast majority of bus assembly was carried out by hand in 1979. As one press release from that year put it, the bus is “a Mercedes product manufactured in the smallest unit numbers, but which at the same time has the largest number of parts and a large number of special requirements. Every bus - whether for touring, interurban or urban use - must therefore be treated virtually as a one-off.” The distribution of jobs at the plant also showed clearly the work-intensive nature of bus construction. In 1978 the Mannheim plant employed a workforce of about 13,500, of which roughly 6,000 were involved in bus production.

Restructuring of the plant premises

The bisection of the plant by public roads finally came to an end in 1979. Up until this point, the plant premises had been split in two by Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Straße (known prior to 1977 as Untere Riedstraße). This road had bisected the site ever since the plant’s opening - probably because the new plant premises were commissioned in several stages throughout 1908 and 1909. For the next few decades, however, this gave rise to a public road running straight through the middle of the plant, a situation that necessitated a large number of plant gates. As a result, bus production remained separate from the rest of the plant.

But the successful construction of a dense network of major trunk roads throughout the 1970s provided the strongest argument to make the road part of the plant in early 1979. The city of Mannheim gave up Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Straße as a public road and it became part of the plant site. This meant the number of plant gates on the west side could be cut from six to one. The solution also improved road safety for works traffic.

The Mannheim plant has seen many significant changes over the years - and as a result administration has had to change at the same pace. A new administration building went up in 1981, accommodating the sales department, a computing center, the company medical service and occupational health and safety.

In July 1983, the plant was able to celebrate another milestone in its long history: the two millionth commercial vehicle diesel engine to come off the production line since engine production was resumed in 1949. This anniversary engine was a special unit from large-volume production - the twelve-cylinder turbo engine had a 21.9-liter displacement, developed 530 hp (390 kW) and was destined for use in a heavy-duty vehicle crane.

Continual investments safeguard competitiveness

The Group continued to invest regularly in the Mannheim plant. In 1984, for example, 80 million marks were spent equipping the bus plant for the future. This involved creating a final assembly facility for coaches and regular service buses, unique in bus construction, with transport on two levels, adjacent pre-assembly bays and assembly-line parts supply, as well as order-related materials procurement. The goal of all this was to create leaner workflows and at the same time create the capacity to react with greater flexibility to specific customer requirements. It spoke volumes for the advanced design of the facility that final assembly workstations for the O 303 touring coach and regular service and interurban buses were integrated into a continuous production process, whereas many other manufacturers were still pushing bodies from one workstation to the next on trestles. A bus produced at Mannheim went through around 50 assembly stations before it was finally finished.

Continuous modernization of the Mannheim plant also included the regular introduction of new production methods. For example, in 1986 the foundry’s “hot box” approach was finally replaced by the “cold box” process, in order to improve working conditions for employees. The “cold box” process considerably reduced problems with heat and odors in the foundry; partial automation also reduced some of the more unpleasant manual tasks.

Eco-friendly water-soluble paint technology
In 1990, the company installed a new paint process at the Mannheim plant, cataphoretic dip priming, the first such system in Germany to be used for buses. As a result, bus products now entered the age of eco-friendly water-soluble paint technology. The paint used was made up of 80 percent water, the remaining 20 percent being solid particulates, in other words anti-corrosion pigments and binding agents; organic solvent content was cut to one or two percent, which meant that solvent emissions were also reduced accordingly - one of the principal reasons for moving over to water-soluble paint technology. The total investment was put at 35 million deutschmarks.

Demands of the market obliged Mannheim to undertake an enlargement of the cataphoretic dip priming facility in 1999. The existing paint shop was restricted to buses up to 12.5 meters in length, and yet bus operators were increasingly ordering longer vehicles. The new facility was able to accommodate body shells and chassis up to 15 meters in length, including therefore triple-axle buses. The facility had an annual capacity of over 5,000 vehicles. EvoBus invested around 10 million deutschmarks in the redevelopment.

In the course of the EvoBus production combine, today, the raw state coaches of all Mercedes-Benz and Setra busses exclusively are manufactured in Mannheim and undercoated in the KTL plant there in the center shell of the bus work. The Kathodische dip varnishing guarantees a complete Korossion protection since complete bus state coaches can be dipped up to 15 m of length into this and coated with a continuous varnish film.


The photo shows Integro the diving event at a country bus of the type Mercedes-Benz in the KTL plant.

Birth of a new company: EvoBus
Anfang 1995, genau 100 Jahre nach der Fertigung des ersten Omnibusses durch Carl Benz und der Aufnahme eines Omnibus-Linienverkehrs zwischen Siegen, Netphen und Deuz, entsteht ein neues Unternehmen im Konzern: Die beiden Marken Mercedes-Benz Omnibusse und Setra, seit 1995 zu Daimler-Benz gehörend, finden unter dem Dach der EvoBus GmbH zusammen, zuständig für das Omnibusgeschäft des Konzerns in Europa. Künftig sorgt ein Produktionsverbund mehrerer Standorte für eine effiziente und kostengünstige Herstellung. Das Tochterunternehmen der damaligen Daimler-Benz AG soll sich als Erfolgsgeschichte erweisen: 2005, zehn Jahre nach der Gründung von EvoBus, gibt es einen Produktionsverbund mit fünf Standorten in vier Ländern, 16 Tochtergesellschaften in den großen Märkten Europas sowie die gemeinsame Dienstleistungsmarke OMNIPlus mit 42 eigenen Servicecentern und 26 Gebrauchtfahrzeug-Centern.

50 years of remanufactured engines from Mannheim
The plant celebrated a special anniversary in 1999: 50 years of remanufactured engines from Mannheim. Given the customary long service life of commercial vehicles, it has become normal practice to exchange a failing power unit not with a brand-new engine, but with one that is as good as new having been reconditioned. Here, time economy plays a vital role, since changing an engine can often be much quicker than attempting to repair a defective unit. In technical terms, remanufactured engines are equivalent to brand-new production engines, are at the latest stage of development and contain only genuine Mercedes-Benz parts. For these reasons, remanufactured engines have the same service life as new units and carry the same warranty. Annual capacity is high: in 1998, for example, the plant turned out around 6,000 remanufactured engines. Over the years this has made for a sizeable total. In 2006 the company celebrated the 500,000th remanufactured engine to come off the assembly line at Mannheim.


Mannheim milestones: By 2006 a total of 500,000 engines had been reconditioned at the Mannheim plant.

The plant at Mannheim has itself firmly establishedly with two pivot legs in the meantime. The engine production and the overhaul of exchange engines, the bus production on the other hand on the one hand.


90 years on: The new body-in-white center at the Mannheim plant in 1998.


Latest generation buses: Mercedes-Benz Citaro production at the Mannheim plant.


Mercedes-Benz Citaro production at the Mannheim plant.

In October 2001, the Mercedes-Benz Buses product unit gave itself a new look for customers arriving at the Mannheim plant to take delivery of their vehicles. A new bus delivery center was built on the premises there with a total investment of nine million deutschmarks. With its generous glazed areas, the bright and friendly building was designed to be open to the world outside. Covering a total floor area of 2,760 square meters, the building provided twelve bays for buses ready for collection.


From Mannheim to the rest of the world: The bus delivery center at the Mannheim plant, 2001.

Looking to the future with “synchronous factories”

The Group continues to invest constantly in the Mannheim location. From 2007 onward, for example, around 150 million euros has been poured into what is known as the “synchronous factory”. For engine production, new facilities will be in operation by 2008/2009 in the foundry, for milling and camshaft production, and a new assembly hall is to be built. Each plant expansion project pays even more attention to reducing noise, emissions and plant traffic in neighboring residential areas. In the “synchronous factory” all assembly and supply processes for delivered parts are coordinated synchronously and at the appropriate time for each engine on the assembly line. This approach has launched the plant into the twenty-first century, rendering it absolutely competitive in the changed market environment.


The largest bus plant on the continent: Aerial view of the Mannheim plant, 1999.


Home of Evobus: Aerial view of the south plant, Mannheim, 1999.


Photos:
Daimler AG


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