BMW and the Smart Revolution in German Manufacturing

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BMW and the Smart Revolution in German Manufacturing

“Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where rapid progress is being made in technology” Harald Krueger, CEO of BMW, is bringing the smart revolution to German manufacturing plants.

In 2016 BMW introduced fully-automated vehicles to the production plants of its Innovation Centre in Wackersdorf. But this is only one component of the Smart Factory concept that is making the BMW production lines so efficient. The manufacturing site of the future is combining innovative materials with self-driving systems and smart data analytics.

Lightweight Materials

The production of BMW’s i-Series of electric and hybrid vehicles was a game changer when compared with traditional approaches to manufacturing:

The modular design consists of the electric drive system and a lightweight carbon fibre passenger compartment. After the carbon fibre forms have been moulded into shape, they are assembled into larger components with a unique automated bonding technique – no need for of screws, rivets and welding.

By injecting liquid resin into the preformed fabric sections the carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) gains stability while still being of manageable weight. This results in passenger cabins that are 30 per cent lighter than aluminium and 50 per cent lighter than steel.

The CFRP curing process also reduces the work phases in the paint shop. This results in a much shorter production line. The i-model assembly uses a 110-metre production line – as opposed to traditional lines that can measure several kilometres.

Smart Transport Robots

Smart Logistics

Supply Logistics are the core of the of the BMW production system. A step towards fully automated production systems are the self-driving robots that have been transporting components through logistics at the Wackersdorf plant since 2016.

The vehicles can transport up to 500 kilograms worth of components to the next working station. They are sustainably powered with recycled batteries from BMW i3 models.

The robots move freely through the logistics halls, giving them a whole new level of flexibility: While automated transportation isn’t new at all, most conventional systems depend on rails or floor-mounted induction loops for navigation.

The smart robots at the BMW logistics centre are equipped with multiple sensors, which allow them to find their destinations within the complex environment independently.

To identify and avoid obstacles they are equipped with a digital map and radio transmitters. This makes it possible for workers to share environments with them safely.

Here’s how the everyday work with the robots can look like:

Smart Data

Throughout the supply chain the manufacturing process produces masses of data. Full data transparency and smart data analytics continuously help to optimise every stage of manufacturing.

In the smart factory each component can be identified with an individual code. That makes it possible to locate the parts on a digital mapping system. Every physical production plant has a ‘digital twin’ visualising the position of the registered objects at the site accurately.

Real-time data analysis allows the current status of parts, vehicles and machines to be displayed, which enables automated systems to respond immediately if there is any damage or disruption.

For example, if a delivery truck is involved in an accident, the system automatically calculates alternative courses and initiates corresponding measures for the workers.

The intelligent use of data leads to more informed data-driven decisions, cuts the risk of errors and minimizes the amount of time needed for communication and duplication of work.

Working in the smart factory


The benefits of the smart factory can be detected in the significant reduction of cycle time and natural resources:

  • The production time of a vehicle in the in the body shop and on the assembly line has gone from 40 hours in a conventional down to 20 hours in the smart factory.
  • The production requires 50 per cent less power and 70 per cent less water per car compared to the BMW production average. The electricity needed can be generated on-site using wind power from four 2.5mW turbines.

In the long-run BMW is planning on reducing 5 per cent of the annual cost of a vehicle, and plans are afoot to take their manufacturing process to that objective. A further €200 million is being invested in a new plant in Leipzig. The building work will begin in 2018 and is scheduled to finish in 2020. The plant will be designed to meet the high standards of an increased production flexibility for future BMW model generations.

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