Touring the Mercedes-Benz Factory Where Sophisticated, Beautiful Cars Are Born

A Girls Guide To Cars | Touring The Mercedes-Benz Factory Where Sophisticated, Beautiful Cars Are Born - Screen Shot 2018 05 16 At 6.19.08 Am

This modern assembly plant is people driven, team focused and strives for excellence.

Mercedes-Benz is a car to be reckoned with, and the company’s Vance, Alabama plant is no different. From open spaces and large glass walls to modern robotic assembly systems to smiles on team members faces, the Mercedes-Benz plant is filled will innovation and excitement.

An hour south of Birmingham, the plant catches the eye of everyone who drives by due to the stunning white building and the tall trees that back the full view of the plant. Mercedes-Benz invited a group of University of Alabama students to learn more about the plant and all of the innovation and exciting work they are doing. The facility uses the best of modern robotic technology and traditional assembly techniques, blending building systems developed in Germany, Japan and the US to achieve not only highly efficient processes, but to also assure the company’s high standards.

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Engine Being Placed Into The Car And Bolted In

One of the coolest parts of the car assembly line was watching the engine being placed into the car and bolted in. Photo: Cameron Reiss

Some of Mercedes-Benz’s Most Popular Models are Built Here

The company’s popular SUVs, including the GLE 8-passenger SUV, the GLE coupe and the GLS SUV, as well as the popular C-Class sedans, are built at the Vance campus in two different plants. The plant we toured assembles solely the C Class sedans. The second plant builds SUVs. And while we were there they were at work on some top secret, not ready to be revealed new models that were tightly under wraps. The  plant produces 300,000 cars and SUVs each year that are sold in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The plants and the production process are designed to build cars and SUVs to the highest of standards, allowing no room for mistakes. While walking through the plant, we watched as each team member, dressed in the Mercedes-Benz ‘uniform’ and wearing protective coverings designed to protect the cars as well as the team members, such as shoes that prevent static shock to protect each car’s computers and on-board technology.

As each team member completed his or her job, they stamped forms for that specific car with their own personal stamp, signifying that they found the car to be at their standards and ready for the next stage in the assembly process. These stamps are unique for team member with an identification code. This stamp process ensures the quality of the cars being built and brought comfort to know that each car is built with such care and consideration.

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Cars Moving Along The Plant Track And Assembled

During the tour, we watched as cars moved along the pant track and were assembled. Photo: Cameron Reiss

Treating Every Team Member Like A Customer

But each team member’s signing off on the quality of their work isn’t enough. Neither is simply providing team members with the highest quality materials. To make sure the cars and trucks they produce are the best, team members are taught to think of the next person down the production line as a customer and to deliver the best quality possible. It’s nice to know that the person ahead of you is thoughtful about your job and making sure you have what you need to do your job!

Another way the plant makes each team member’s time efficient is with “shopping carts” of the supplies they need to do their job and that are easily accessible, so no part is farther than an arm’s reach. This strategy allows for team members to spend less time walking and more time focused on achieving highest standards.

After each car or SUV is assembled, each is given a test drive to ensure there are no rattles or vibrations and that all the technology works. And then, each gets a shower: this tests to make sure all the seals are tight and water can’t leak into the car.

We had fun in the Mercedes-Benz GLC, a hatchback with the feel of a sedan and the capability of an SUV.

The University Of Alabama Students Group After The Factory Tour

The University of Alabama group after the factory tour. Photo: Cameron Reiss

The Women Who Run the Show in Vance

One of the highlights of our day at the Vance plant was learning how many women are key to the plant’s success, from the human resources team to engineers to women on the production line assisting the placement of engines in the cars. We were surrounded by empowering women with every step we took.

We sat down with two phenomenal women, Shannon Hamf and Jennifer Jones. Shannon Hamf has been with the Daimler organization, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, since 2000 and is in charge of five different teams and is responsible for program planning and production control and steering. She has worked all over the world, including Germany and China, and speaks fluent German. When asked about why she loved her job so much, her answer was as excited as the expression on her face: “It’s fun!” She exclaimed as she described the involved process of her job and her impact on how the company is continuously changing and adapting to a growing environment.

Jennifer Jones, a senior human resources manager, has been with Mercedes-Benz for 4 years. Born and raised in nearby Birmingham, Jennifer described her love and excitement for her job in HR. When talking about her job, a smile never left her face. It was truly inspiring to see a workplace driven by teamwork and dedication to being the best, especially for a group of college students thinking about where their career journeys may lead.

Mercedes Benz Off Road Track - Black Car On Uneven Path In The Woods

One of the best parts of our day was being able to participate on the plant’s off-road track. Photo: Cameron Reiss

Luxury Cars That Are Built To Go Everywhere So You Can, Too

One of the best parts of our day was after the factory tour, when we were able to take a ride on the Mercedes-Benz off road track. Part of the plant’s campus is dedicated to a test track where engineers can detect and fix an issue before it makes it into the production line. The off road track is also used to show – or show off–  media and executives how capable their SUVs are. We all climbed into 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLEs and buckled up for a thrilling, exciting, and giggly ride. We watched as these SUVs went through potholes the size of a small boulder, up a set of stairs, and between trees in the woods. And inside the car we were in comfortable, exacting luxury.

Overall, the experience at the plant was incredible. Being able to see an innovative environment filled with team members who love their job and what they do is amazing. The women we met throughout our afternoon amazed our group by sharing their stories of why they love their jobs at Mercedes-Benz. Walking away at the end of our afternoon, our whole group had a whole new view of not just Mercedes-Benz, but an auto assembly plant, too.

Want to take a factory tour? You can!

The plant is open for tours on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tours are $5 per person and all guests must be age 10 or older. Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll walk about 2 miles during the one and a half hour tour. And be prepared to be wowed by the innovation you’ll see and the smiling team members you’ll meet!

A full time tech executive and part time writer, Cameron is a graduate of the University of Alabama. A... More about Cameron Reiss