PDA

View Full Version : Factory Tour


Tanning machine
09-13-2003, 02:28 PM
Thought I'd give a brief write up of the factory tour I took during ED. Anyone doing ED, and even those who aren't but will be in Germany, should try to take the tour, either in Munich or at one of the other factories. We took the Friday tour, which is in English. I would recommend not taking a German-speaking tour unless you're fluent, because the tour guide provides a bunch of information that you couldn't otherwise figure out. We had a former air-traffic controller, who was forced to retire from his first job early. Now he drives a Z4 roadster and gives factory tours (there were a lot of Z4s in Europe). Fellow 'fester Stevarino and his wife were also on the tour--perhaps he'll add his thoughts. Unfortunately, I have no pictures, because it's not allowed. Although they are concerned about industrial espionage, they aren't too concerned--a tour with Mercedes-Benz executives was coming through the next week.

The tour takes 2.5 hours or so, and is a lot of walking, including a few stairs. There's a break in the middle with free soda or water. We didn't get a beer, though. Workers are entitled to one beer with a meal during each 9 hour shift (4 shifts per week). The quantity is controlled through the use of pre-paid meal cards. Overall, the factory has 10 shifts per week, 6a-3p and 3p-12m, each weekday, plus one saturday shift per month. Workers work four shifts, and generally get a four-day weekend every 3d week or so. Because the factory is located in what's now a residential area, BMW can't run the factory more. Overall, they claim 75% of the entire process is automated. Overall production is 800 cars/day, or 225k per year. They said only 2 cars each year were the same (i.e., identically equipped in every way).

Anyway, we started in the pressing shop, after an introductory movie. That's where they stamp the metal for many of the body parts. It's very noisy, and very automated. There are six pressing steps for each panel, and we could watch a flat sheet go through each of the steps (only the first one, when it goes from flat to shaped, appears to do anything). This part is highly automated, with a few workers monitoring progress, and a few moving new stackes of metal.

Next stop was the welding area. This is where the panels begin to get welded together. We saw the middle of the process, when the front, middle, and back of the body are welded together. Each part comes from a different direction, and they meet at one place, where they get welded. It was pretty interesting to see each rear come into view, as one was a sedan rear and the next a compact rear (those are the two models fully built at this factory). All of this was automated--large robotic arms moved around the body spot welding.

The body, and we, moved on to the paint shop. We walked; the bodies when over a closed bridge on the second floor by conveyor belt. The bodies are primed and then staged. They go through a large, glass-enclosed passageway, having paint applied at each stage. The change the paint nozzles every 8-10 cars. The paint nozzles rotate at 4000rpm--they look while moving like one large sprayer, but it's actually 8 or so sprayers rotating around very rapidly. They painted body enters what's essentially a large oven for final curing. It's then cooled, and send for final assembly.

We went next to the final assembly. This is what they call the "marriage." The body, chassis, and engine are all assembled here. Everything is timed to come together just right. In fact, each body, once welded together, is tracked to the individual order/customer. BMW considers this marriage to be a big event. The tour guide mentioned one M3 buyer from England who flew in to watch the marriage of his car (at Regensburg), saw it, and then flew back to England. After the marriage, the car is moved up for installation of seats, electronics, etc. (much of which is customized to the car). (Doors are assembled elsewhere and sent down later). Each stage has a few workers with the requisite bins. He hops on the conveyor with the car, installs the bolts, trim, whatever, and then hops off and goes back for the next one. A lot of this is automated as well, like the windshields, which are mounted with robotic arms. For those of you cheesed at BMWNA for not allowing many options, seeing this would burn you even more. The bins are all there, waiting for selection as the customer chooses (each car has the full order printed on it). So, the assembly guy looks at the chart, and pulls out the right pieces--rear fog button, birch trim, alcantara cloth, rear sunscreen, etc.

Finally, we went to testing. Each car, after completion (which takes 30 hours from when the body is first welded, including waiting time--mostly cooling after the paint curing process), goes to the testing center. Each car gets a final QC. Part of the process includes a run of the car up to 100mph--we watched a silver gray ZHP, with auto tranny, get the run. A couple lucky kids got to sit in the back seat with the tech. If it's fine, it's put in line for shipment by rail to the port. If there's a problem, they put it to the side for fixing (for example, some cars have a broken windshield).

So, that's where the tour concludes. Hope you enjoyed the write up, and that you'll get to enjoy your own tour in person one day.

SONET
09-13-2003, 02:36 PM
Very interesting write-up! I didn't know you could get in if you weren't doing ED. I will definitely do this one day!

--SONET

bbkat
09-13-2003, 02:41 PM
Nice write-up! I'm looking forward to doing it next month!

bmw325
09-13-2003, 02:41 PM
Thought I'd give a brief write up of the factory tour I took during ED. Anyone doing ED, and even those who aren't but will be in Germany, should try to take the tour, either in Munich or at one of the other factories. We took the Friday tour, which is in English. I would recommend not taking a German-speaking tour unless you're fluent, because the tour guide provides a bunch of information that you couldn't otherwise figure out. We had a former air-traffic controller, who was forced to retire from his first job early. Now he drives a Z4 roadster and gives factory tours (there were a lot of Z4s in Europe). Fellow 'fester Stevarino and his wife were also on the tour--perhaps he'll add his thoughts. Unfortunately, I have no pictures, because it's not allowed. Although they are concerned about industrial espionage, they aren't too concerned--a tour with Mercedes-Benz executives was coming through the next week.

The tour takes 2.5 hours or so, and is a lot of walking, including a few stairs. There's a break in the middle with free soda or water. We didn't get a beer, though. Workers are entitled to one beer with a meal during each 9 hour shift (4 shifts per week). The quantity is controlled through the use of pre-paid meal cards. Overall, the factory has 10 shifts per week, 6a-3p and 3p-12m, each weekday, plus one saturday shift per month. Workers work four shifts, and generally get a four-day weekend every 3d week or so. Because the factory is located in what's now a residential area, BMW can't run the factory more. Overall, they claim 75% of the entire process is automated. Overall production is 800 cars/day, or 225k per year. They said only 2 cars each year were the same (i.e., identically equipped in every way).

Anyway, we started in the pressing shop, after an introductory movie. That's where they stamp the metal for many of the body parts. It's very noisy, and very automated. There are six pressing steps for each panel, and we could watch a flat sheet go through each of the steps (only the first one, when it goes from flat to shaped, appears to do anything). This part is highly automated, with a few workers monitoring progress, and a few moving new stackes of metal.

Next stop was the welding area. This is where the panels begin to get welded together. We saw the middle of the process, when the front, middle, and back of the body are welded together. Each part comes from a different direction, and they meet at one place, where they get welded. It was pretty interesting to see each rear come into view, as one was a sedan rear and the next a compact rear (those are the two models fully built at this factory). All of this was automated--large robotic arms moved around the body spot welding.

The body, and we, moved on to the paint shop. We walked; the bodies when over a closed bridge on the second floor by conveyor belt. The bodies are primed and then staged. They go through a large, glass-enclosed passageway, having paint applied at each stage. The change the paint nozzles every 8-10 cars. The paint nozzles rotate at 4000rpm--they look while moving like one large sprayer, but it's actually 8 or so sprayers rotating around very rapidly. They painted body enters what's essentially a large oven for final curing. It's then cooled, and send for final assembly.

We went next to the final assembly. This is what they call the "marriage." The body, chassis, and engine are all assembled here. Everything is timed to come together just right. In fact, each body, once welded together, is tracked to the individual order/customer. BMW considers this marriage to be a big event. The tour guide mentioned one M3 buyer from England who flew in to watch the marriage of his car (at Regensburg), saw it, and then flew back to England. After the marriage, the car is moved up for installation of seats, electronics, etc. (much of which is customized to the car). (Doors are assembled elsewhere and sent down later). Each stage has a few workers with the requisite bins. He hops on the conveyor with the car, installs the bolts, trim, whatever, and then hops off and goes back for the next one. A lot of this is automated as well, like the windshields, which are mounted with robotic arms. For those of you cheesed at BMWNA for not allowing many options, seeing this would burn you even more. The bins are all there, waiting for selection as the customer chooses (each car has the full order printed on it). So, the assembly guy looks at the chart, and pulls out the right pieces--rear fog button, birch trim, alcantara cloth, rear sunscreen, etc.

Finally, we went to testing. Each car, after completion (which takes 30 hours from when the body is first welded, including waiting time--mostly cooling after the paint curing process), goes to the testing center. Each car gets a final QC. Part of the process includes a run of the car up to 100mph--we watched a silver gray ZHP, with auto tranny, get the run. A couple lucky kids got to sit in the back seat with the tech. If it's fine, it's put in line for shipment by rail to the port. If there's a problem, they put it to the side for fixing (for example, some cars have a broken windshield).

So, that's where the tour concludes. Hope you enjoyed the write up, and that you'll get to enjoy your own tour in person one day.


Nice write-up. I took the tour 3 times when I lived in Munich-- never got tired of it (noticed different things each time). Sounds like your tour was actualy more thorough than mine-- we didn't get to see final QC-- and no one was able to sit in any cars.

I wonder how that M3 owner arranged to view the "marrriage". I had wanted to arrange to see part of the assembly process of my 325- but was told it was "impossible" because they didn't know the exact timing. So, I timed it as best I could and reserved a tour spot for the day when I thought (based on status codes), that my car might be in final assembly. I may have seen it-- but wasn't able to verify. So, was your tourguide an American or a German? All of my guides were non-German students (2 Americans, 1 Swede) doing internships at BMW (wish I'd known about that when I was in school- :) ).

Tanning machine
09-13-2003, 02:41 PM
Very interesting write-up! I didn't know you could get in if you weren't doing ED. I will definitely do this one day!

--SONET

Yeah, that's a point I should mention. It was free for us. But I believe others had to pay (not sure on that, though). There were a bunch of people who were turned away (they didn't have reservations). I would guess it's less hard to get a reservation at the other factories, because this one's at the headquarters and associated with the museum.

So, if you're going, be sure to call/email ahead to make a reservation.

LDV330i
09-13-2003, 02:58 PM
So, if you're going, be sure to call/email ahead to make a reservation.

I tried to sign up via their website and got a form e-mail asking me to call the factory directly. I did speak to a nice english speaking german lady who took my reservation but I am not sure the reservation is correctly listed under my last name. She was having a hard time understanding that my last name started with "V". :dunno: I guess it is a german thing. I gave up after 3 tries.

There is a mention that there is alot of stair climbing. I read that if you give them fair warning that you will need special accommodations because you are handicapped they will be prepared for that and you will be able to participate in the tour. :thumbup:

autobahn
09-15-2003, 03:49 AM
How do you sign up for a reservation? This sounds very cool!

Tanning machine
09-15-2003, 06:33 AM
How do you sign up for a reservation? This sounds very cool!

My salesman made the reservation.

But try this link for info:

http://www.bmwgroup.com/e/index2.shtml?s50&/newstool/en/NewsInformation/news/bmwgroup_news.jsp?1_1

Tanning machine
09-15-2003, 06:37 AM
They said only 2 cars each year were the same (i.e., identically equipped in every way).


That's very hard to believe. :dunno:

I found it hard to believe too. I had the feeling they came up with the figure statistically--you know, there are 200k combos and we produce 225k cars, so only 1.5 are alike (that was the number he quoted). Not that all US cars are produced at the same factory, but I imagine there are some basic combinations for the 325 and 330 sedans that are repeated more than once.

bluskye
09-15-2003, 07:34 AM
I met this guy who's a head honcho in Manfacturing efficiency. He compared the Lexus and BMW assembly lines.

He talked to BMW executives because they wanted to know why their quality control was inferior to Lexus. He simply said, you are doing it the wrong way. Lexus assemblers are the qc checkers at each stage, the entire assembly line can be shut down until the problem is fixed somewhere in the line. Nothing moves untill the problem gets fixed at the root. Once the cars get off the line, there is no quality check, since it was done while the car was being assembled, hence reducing the number of issues right off the line since the issues were fixed at their root immediately.

oh well, im guessing BMW never took his advice.

Tanning machine
09-15-2003, 07:38 AM
I met this guy who's a head honcho in Manfacturing efficiency. He compared the Lexus and BMW assembly lines.

He talked to BMW executives because they wanted to know why their quality control was inferior to Lexus. He simply said, you are doing it the wrong way. Lexus assemblers are the qc checkers at each stage, the entire assembly line can be shut down until the problem is fixed somewhere in the line. Nothing moves untill the problem gets fixed at the root. Once the cars get off the line, there is no quality check, since it was done while the car was being assembled, hence reducing the number of issues right off the line since the issues were fixed at their root immediately.

oh well, im guessing BMW never took his advice.

My guess is the German attitude is: We have engineered this assembly line to produce perfect cars. Therefore it produces perfect cars. There is no need for QC.

The tour guide actually expressed this attitude. We were at the windshield installation area, which has several robotic arms moving the glass into place over the car. Someone asked what happens if the glass breaks during installation--does the car get stopped and get it reinstalled? First answer: no, the glass never breaks. Follow-up: Why does that car going by right now have no windshield? Hmm, the glass must have broken. It will be fixed later.

bmw325
09-15-2003, 07:58 AM
I met this guy who's a head honcho in Manfacturing efficiency. He compared the Lexus and BMW assembly lines.

He talked to BMW executives because they wanted to know why their quality control was inferior to Lexus. He simply said, you are doing it the wrong way. Lexus assemblers are the qc checkers at each stage, the entire assembly line can be shut down until the problem is fixed somewhere in the line. Nothing moves untill the problem gets fixed at the root. Once the cars get off the line, there is no quality check, since it was done while the car was being assembled, hence reducing the number of issues right off the line since the issues were fixed at their root immediately.

oh well, im guessing BMW never took his advice.


I was surprised that BMW doesn't do this-- this has been a known "secret" of Japanese automakers for quite some time. It was even written about in a book (can't remember the name right now). When I was on my tour- I asked the tourguide if the line stops if there is a problem (assuming that by now all automakers had adopted this practice)-- the answer was stunned "no-- that would be too expensive to stop the whole line". She said that if there is a mistake it gets put aside to be fixed later. It was exactly this type of practice that this book (by 2 MIT professors) demonstrated as hindering quality. AFAIK, American manufacturers have adopted this practivce in many of their plants, and quality has gone up significantly. Don't know why the Germans can't learn this...

Actually, it was another "lesson" in this book which is probably even more important for German automakers. It has to do with how you integrate suppliers into the design and production processes to get the highest quality. Given that most of the quality problems that BMW's have seem to be realted to out-sourced components-- this may be the more important lesson

andy_thomas
09-15-2003, 10:14 AM
They said only 2 cars each year were the same (i.e., identically equipped in every way).


That's very hard to believe. :dunno:

I don't think have never seen two modern UK-market BMWs identically equipped, and I've been round plenty of dealer lots. However the use of packaging for several countries would make it very likely. Titan silver, black leathette, auto, sport package 325i for US market, anyone?

I think perhaps the guide (or whoever it was) divided the total number of cars estimated to be built over the production by the gross number of colour, trim, wheel, engine, bodystyle and options combinations...

Tanning machine
09-15-2003, 10:43 AM
I think perhaps the guide (or whoever it was) divided the total number of cars estimated to be built over the production by the gross number of colour, trim, wheel, engine, bodystyle and options combinations...

That was my thought too. Although on reflection, I'm not sure it would work. There must be billions of combinations, given that you can take each option and say yes or no (e.g., a/c, sport package, auto/man, heated seats, etc.), and then multiply by 10 or so for paints and 10 or so for interiors. Just 20 binary options gets you over a million possibilities (now, I realize they're not all independent choices in most cases, but they could be if you're calculating in theory). Multiply by each of 10 colors/10 interiors, and you're at 100 million.

My renewed guess? They simply don't have a clue how many identical cars are produced, and the number is more than 2 but less than a hundred.