03 June 2008

BMW

Munich is the home of BMW. Near the Olympic park is the famous 'Four Cylinder' building, the company headquarters, the BMW museum, the recently completed BMW Welt and a manufacturing plant.

On Friday I went with a group to tour the manufacturing plant. No cameras were allowed inside the plant, so no photographs. (Though somebody brought a video camera in at some point)

The most impressive part of the tour was watching the robots - there are thousands of them, all painted a kind of Easyjet orange. The robots are made by another German company, KUKA, just up the road in Augsburg.

Instead of a production line, there are individual bays where four or more robots work on specific parts of the car. Further on, where the side panels are attached to the floor panel no fewer than twelve robots worked simultaneously.

It might be hard to believe, but it is fascinating to watch these robots at work. Their movements are closely co-ordinated since they pass within centimetres - even millimetres - of each other while working.

The humans working at the plant seem to have a lot less to do. I watched two men working in one section whose job was to push plastic plugs into parts of the car body. On the one hand it looks like very tedious work. On the other, the line wasn't exactly moving at high speed, and I suspect pay and conditions are good.

The tour guide was very keen to stress the sophisticated logistics management system in the factor. Each car is built to order with customer requirements put in place as the car moves along the production sequence. This means the right body and the right optional features have to be delivered to to the right place at the right time in the right sequence.

Inevitably, many of my fellow visitors decided they needed a BMW - which is surely the whole point. I myself can resist the temptation, but it was nice to see a business that still actually makes something.

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