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BMW innovates at new Leipzig assembly plant

Anna Kochan
Associate Editor, Assembly Automation
Abstract Purpose To look at BMWs latest assembly plant in Leipzig and identify new processes and techniques. Design/methodology/approach Visited BMWs Leipzig plant, viewed new assembly lines, and interviewed key managers. Findings Innovations at BMWs Leipzig plant include new work structures that raise productivity and increased use of outsourcing. Originality/value Gives an indication of production trends in the automotive industry. Keywords Assembly, Automotive industry, Robotics, Automation Paper type Case study

BMWs latest car assembly plant is highly exible and extremely productive. Located in Leipzig, Germany, it started full production in 2005. The totally new plant was built on a greeneld site and brings together the best of existing BMW manufacturing know-how as well as a few innovations of its own. The car manufacturer is, for example, trying out a new work structure in Leipzig that it claims is leading to a level of productivity that is 20 per cent higher than at other BMW plants. The key is to use multi-discipline workers rather than multi-discipline teams. Another innovation is the relocation of many module and component suppliers to the actual Leipzig site where they work alongside BMWs own employees. BMW invested e1.3 billion in the new plant. The maximum capacity is 650 units per day, or 160,000 per year, a level of production that will be reached in 2006 or 2007, if all goes to plan. By then, the plant will employ 5,500 people on two-shift working in all areas except for the paint shop, which has to operate a third shift to obtain the same output. The model currently being built at Leipzig is the mid-range three-series model. The new Leipzig plant includes a body shop, paint facility and nal assembly line, but no press shop. With two assembly plants also producing the three-series in Bavaria, BMW did not consider it necessary to install stamping facilities at Leipzig too. The Munich and Regensburg factories in Bavaria supply most of the stampings for the cars assembled at Leipzig, particularly the major outer panels. The remainder comes from Tower Automotive, a Canadian-owned suppler that has established a facility nearby in Zwicken. It is possible that BMW will build a press shop on the Leipzig site in the future. An unused area of land adjacent to the body shop has been earmarked for this purpose.
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Assembly Automation 26/2 (2006) 111 114 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0144-5154] [DOI 10.1108/01445150610658086]

Like all BMW plants, automation is used extensively, particularly in the body shop. Here the automation level is 97 per cent, and some 500 robots are in use. Together with 450 production personnel, they have the capacity to produce 650 car bodies per day. More than 5,000 spot welds are required for each body, as well as 250 stud welds (Plate 1). Adhesive is used in combination with welding for a total seam length of 16 m. The robots as well as the complete framing station were supplied by Kuka. Kuka is, in fact, the robot manufacturer BMW has selected for all three-series production, whether at Leipzig, Munich or Regensburg. The welding lines for assembling the underbody were supplied by German companies FFT, Edag and Emil Bucher. The welding guns are all pneumatic. The body shop maintains a spare for each different weld gun so that production can resume very quickly in the event of a failure. It should mean a delay of no more than 15-20 min, according to Benz. It is in the highly automated areas of the Leipzig body shop where the investment is particularly high, and the new work structures have been adopted. In all other BMW plants, multi-disciplinary teams manage individual sections of the production line. A team could, for example, comprise ten production operators, three quality specialists, three for logistics tasks and six for maintenance jobs. Taking a completely different approach, the teams operating at Leipzig are made up of personnel who are all trained to an equal level in each discipline. Each one can, for example, teach, operate and maintain a robot. The result, reports Guenther Benz, Director of Body-inWhite, is a considerable productivity improvement, more than 20 per cent: This is because, in a multi-discipline team, the maintenance specialists have little to do when the equipment is running normally, and they can often be under-employed. BMW trained the multi-disciplined body shop personnel for the Leipzig plant at its various factories in Bavarian. The company says that it does not have to pay higher wages despite the higher skill levels. The new-style teams in the Leipzig body shop organise themselves, deciding which member takes responsibility for which functions each day. 111

BMW innovates at new Leipzig assembly plant Anna Kochan

Assembly Automation Volume 26 Number 2 2006 111 114

Plate 1 In BMWs new body shop at Leipzig, the automation level is 97 per cent, and some 500 robots are in use. Together with 450 production personnel, they have the capacity to produce 650 car bodies per day

As well as the higher productivity and exibility, the new working structure also benets the team members as it gives them more responsibility and motivation Benz adds. His experience with the new multi-discipline teams is very good so far. The plant reached the same quality levels as BMWs plants in Bavaria within three or four months of launching production. The nishing lines in the body shop, where the doors and hoods are mounted, are entirely manual. The investment is low here so the new work structures do not apply. The assembly shop is also a mainly manual area. However, windscreen insertion is a sophisticated station involving more than 50 cameras to ascertain the exact position of the vehicle in the station and the best t of the windscreen in each vehicle coming down the line. The station was supplied by German systems integrator IBG (Plate 2). As well as working structures, the equipment at the Leipzig plant is also very exible. A universal pallet, with common

location points below and model-specic positioning points above, will enable a new model to be accommodated on the assembly line with the minimum of adjustment. Change this tool and you can immediately build a new model on the same line, Benz explains. Having a greeneld site meant that BMW could match its buildings construction to its production philosophy. The company opted to arrange the production buildings in a circle around the central building housing quality and administration functions. This minimises distances and creates the optimum preconditions for communication between the production areas. With the production buildings radiating out from the central area, ample opportunity is provided for future extensions and the integration of new production technology at minimum cost. The central building (Plate 3) was designed by renowned London architect Zaha Hadid and was a nalist for the 2005 Stirling prize. BMW has built a supply centre on the Leipzig site, which has a direct link to the assembly hall. Both internal and external suppliers pre-assemble modules in the supply centre in order to then supply them to the assembly line in the order in which they are needed for production, i.e. just-insequence. The assembly hall itself is built in a form of comb structure. Its ground plan enables incoming parts and pre-assembled modules to be transported directly to the assembly lines by the shortest route (Figure 1). Another highly innovative feature of the new plant is the number of key roles that BMW has entrusted to outside suppliers. The entire logistics function has, for example, been contracted out. It is the rst time that BMW has taken outsourcing this far. Three main third-party service providers share the task: Rudolf logistics for body shop logistics; Schenker logistics for assembly, and Hoechst subsidiary Infraserve handles non-series production logistics, including spare parts, both for ofces and for the plant, such as light bulbs, printer cartridges, conveyor motors . . . The Leipzig plant is acting as a kind of guinea pig, says Nikolaus Bauer, Director Logistics and IT. We are outsourcing more at Leipzig than BMW has done at its other plants to check out what makes sense. Its

Plate 2 Windscreen insertion is a sophisticated station involving more than 50 cameras to ascertain the exact position of the vehicle in the station and the best t of the windscreen in each vehicle

Plate 3 The central administration building at Leipzig was designed by renowned London architect Zaha Hadid and was a nalist for the 2005 Stirling prize


BMW innovates at new Leipzig assembly plant Anna Kochan

Assembly Automation Volume 26 Number 2 2006 111 114

Figure 1 The assembly hall is built in a form of comb structure with a ground plan that enables incoming parts and pre-assembled modules to be transported directly to the assembly lines by the shortest route

the strategy that Leipzig takes the rst step and feeds back its experience into the Group network he explains. The Leipzig assembly shop will have about 160 Schenker employees working in it once full capacity is reached. They work both on the vehicle assembly line and also in two module assembly areas on the Leipzig site where ve different suppliers rent space and prepare modules according to the assembly sequence. The Schenker personnel take responsibility for all the physical logistics. Wearing blue clothes, as opposed to the BMW personnels grey, the Schenker employees in the assembly hall are known as line runners and operate a form of electronic kanban system. Each individual is charged with keeping 20 assembly stations supplied with components. They use laser pens to scan bar codes on containers to re-order parts that are needed. The information is transmitted to the production management system, which creates a transportation order. When the new supply of parts arrives, it is the line runners job to transfer them to the appropriate station. Since, 20 stations cover a length of about 120 m, the Schenker personnel ride on electric scooters. Otherwise they might have to walk that distance 100 times a day. For the rst time, BMW has applied a high level of automation for moving parts and modules around the Leipzig plant. A eet of 74 automated guided vehicles (AGVs) supplied by Austrian company TMS brings containers of parts from the storage area in the supply centres to the shop oor. It is a distance of about 140 m. The Leipzig plant uses no forklift trucks in the assembly hall because they are too loud and brash, and introduce a massive inquiet into the work place. You cant expect the team members on the line to work with concentration in that kind of environment, says Bauer. The AGVs nd their way to the correct stations using a map programmed into their on-board computer and magnetic beacons embedded in the oor. As well as the AGVs for transporting bulk parts, BMW uses an electric conveyor system for the major modules that are delivered in sequence (pipelines, front-end, headliner, doors, seats, cockpits). These are prepared in the supply centre 113

either by the supplier or by BMW and then hung onto the conveyor, which carries them over a 9 m high bridge into the assembly hall and drops them down exactly at the point-of-t. In fact, the AGVs share the same bridge as the conveyor system, using elevators to get up and down to it automatically. Bauer admits that the automation levels have been challenging: It was quite strenuous to achieve the new logistics systems, particularly to synchronise the automation. All innovation is difcult because of the risks you take and the need to convince everyone that it is worthwhile to take them. And, it is not so easy to implement technology of this complexity but we have succeeded he comments. Having a greeneld site has helped: We had the opportunity to build the factory according to the principal of the material ow. Usually you have to compromise your material ow to t in with the surroundings. Extensive testing has eliminated all the initial bugs from the automated systems though Bauer is concerned about how they will perform as output rises. The most challenging aspect of reaching full production will be the availability of the automated systems, he adds. No automation is involved in the logistics systems for suppliers delivering parts JIT to the assembly hall. They drive the trucks right up to the side of the assembly hall and dock close to the point-of-use on the assembly line. Shaped like a comb with teeth or a hand with ngers, the oor plan of the assembly hall facilitates truck deliveries. Trucks can dock so close to the assembly line that parts are unloaded no more than 7 m from point-of-t. The Schenker line runners transfer goods from the trucks to the assembly line. The ngers can easily be extended when adjustment or expansion of the assembly is required. BMW has patented the concept. The structure Opel set-up at Russelsheim during its recent renovation closely resembles the Leipzig layout. The launch of the three-series at Leipzig has been BMWs best launch ever, claims Gerhard Schlager, Director Quality Management: Compared with other launches, we have achieved 50% fewer faults per vehicle, and we are recording far better process capability measures than we had in the past, he says. This is partly due to simulation of production processes at a very early stage of design and partly to more rigorous procedures. Some 2-2.5 years ahead of the start of volume production, all assembly processes were checked out using computer simulation. Any operations revealed to be particularly problematic by this procedure were then investigated with hardware. The parts involved were made full-size and to the exact specication. In this way, potential issues are resolved in good time, as Gerhard Schlager explains: In the past, we sometimes allowed problems encountered in development stages to be transferred to manufacturing and then had to solve them during the vehicle launch. That cannot happen now. In every phase of the development process, all the problems have to be solved. The new Leipzig plant is also the rst BMW plant to benet from an acoustic test cell on-site (Plate 4). A tool normally used by the engineering department during the development phase, the technology is intended to help eliminate undesirable noise sources from a vehicle. We have learnt that due to the number of engineering changes and model updates, each of which brings a big inux of new parts, we have to use this technology under volume

BMW innovates at new Leipzig assembly plant Anna Kochan

Assembly Automation Volume 26 Number 2 2006 111 114

Plate 4 The new Leipzig plant is the rst BMW plant to benet from an acoustic test cell on-site

production conditions, Schlager indicates. Having the technology on-site also means most problems can be quickly investigated and solutions implemented. Acoustic testing is now done regularly during a launch, when component changes occur and once or twice a year for vehicle audits: Weve already eliminated sources of noise. And, because we can create far more extreme conditions than the average customer will encounter, we can improve the whole system step by step, he concludes. During the early stages, Schlagers supplier development team of highly specialised engineers worked closely with suppliers on product and process issues. Now that the threeseries is in production, he has decided to transfer this engineering capability to the assembly department. The biggest problems relating to faulty parts always arise in assembly. If we give assembly this engineering capability, then they can very quickly operate the problem resolution process, he says. It is a change in procedure but one that makes good sense.

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