Bavarian Perfection at BMW World

| July 17, 2009


After a weeklong business trip in Munich last November, Donna flew over to meet me for a few days of exploring Munich and the Bavarian and Austrian countryside. Germany is a fantastic place to visit. Getting around by train and car is easy, English is frequently spoken, and the architecture and scenery is breathtaking. This post focuses on the BMW World tour in Munich. I plan to post more about our trip to Germany and Austria in later posts. Toward the end of our stay in Germany, we took the train to BMW World, which is located right next to the site of the 1972 Olympic Games. You only have to visit BMW World to understand that there is a respectable profit in building fine automobiles. I’m not knocking it. If you passionately strive to design and build a fantastic product, you should reap the reward.

In much the same way I am drawn to Apple and their products, I am also a huge fan of BMW. The site of BMW World includes BMW’s headquarters, an amazing showroom, a meticulously designed museum, and one of BMW’s car factories. If you are ever in Munich, I highly recommend visiting BMW World along with Munich’s city center and surrounding attractions. As a designer, I appreciated every aspect of BMW World from the architecture of the buildings and the painstaking details of the museum’s design to the two-hour factory tour. The museum is spotless with no detail left undone. The lighting of the interior of the museum was so perfect that I felt like I was in an enormous studio. The flash on my camera rarely went off indoors and the pictures turned out wonderful. In the same way BMW designs cars, they put as much effort into the development of the showroom, museum and tour. It was evident that BMW lives it’s culture down to the last detail.

I have no pictures of the factory tour because they are not allowed for obvious reasons. The tour starts with a short film about the history of BMW. After that a, well, very attractive impeccably English speaking tour guide took us across the street into the factory. Because the city of Munich ended up surrounding the original factory, BMW had to go up instead of out over time to expand its operations. As a result, the factory has been engineered to operate on three floors. The first thing we saw on the tour was the press operation. As we safely watched from a brushed aluminum catwalk, huge two story machines stamped out an endless supply of body parts using up to 4-million pounds of pressure. Because there are neighborhoods located across the street from the factory, the floors are on shock absorbers so BMW can run multiple shifts while harmoniously coexisting with their neighbors. When standing outside, you can’t hear any of the commotion going on inside.

From there, we walked into the body assembly operation. Here, a floor filled with 650 industrial robots work in symphonic coordination to make 97% of the body of the car, which is comprised of 400 stamped pieces. Conveyor systems twist and turn overhead to deliver the stamped pieces to pods of robots that perform very specific jobs from applying industrial adhesives to spot welding the pieces together. Our jaws almost hit the floor when we saw all this come together under the watchful eye of human floor supervisors. Then we saw the painting operation. Imagine glass enclosed paint booths with no overspray on them. The entire body – doors and everything – meanders through several booths where the car is dipped for rust proofing and untimately painted by more robots. One robot opens and closes the hinged parts while others spray electrically charged paint onto the body. The paint contains about 65% water making it easy on the environment. Air from the top of the booth takes what little overspray is left over down into what appeared to be a conveyor with rushing water on it. After curing, the painted bodies are stacked in a storage area waiting for an order to initiate final assembly.

In final assembly, interiors, engines and everything else is added to the car to make the final product. As the underside equipment is added, the cars are flipped over and adjusted to the ideal assembly height for the worker on the line that day. It was fascinating to see the great lengths BMW went to make sure ideal ergonomics were maintained to limit injury and increase productivity. Once the engines are added and all is hooked up, final testing begins before the car is cleared for delivery. Oh, the factory receives more than 700 truck deliveries a day and produces about 900 plus cars in a 24-hour period.

The museum visit and tour took about six hours and was worth every second. The admissions are reasonably priced and the quality of the experience is outstanding. Remember to check when the English factory tours are being given for that day when you arrive. If you don’t, you may miss out on the only tour left for the day. Knowing what I know now, I would have been very disappointed to have missed the factory portion of the experience. That’s it for now. Look forward to some information on our visit to Munich, Salzburg and Neuschwanstein Castle in future posts.

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Category: Travel