The OpExChange recently experienced one of their marquee plant visits of the year. The BMW factory in Spartanburg hosted 48 participants from 33 manufacturing and distribution companies across South Carolina.
This experience provided a firsthand look into the cutting-edge processes and methodologies that drive one of the most innovative automobile manufacturing facilities in the world. In addition to a guided tour through the impressive body shop, the group participated in a presentation and discussion with the folks that manage and participate in their Lean Six Sigma program and daily management system.
BMW has played a pivotal role in boosting South Carolina’s economic landscape, directly and indirectly creating nearly 43,000 jobs within the state. The Spartanburg site alone contributes to 4.8% of all manufacturing jobs in South Carolina, underlining its significance.
Moreover, the ripple effect of BMW’s operations has given rise to a network of over 500 suppliers across the state, many of whom are OpExChange members. This symbiotic relationship further cements BMW’s role as a catalyst for economic development. (1)
The BMW Body Shop – A BMW is Born
After a brief introductory session in their Zentrum auditorium, the group travelled by bus to the body shop which produces the body of the BMW XM, their mid-size luxury SUV. This is where the underlying foundation of quality, reliability, and safety are infused into the BMW vehicles. The tour guide shared that there are 400 individual pieces of steel, welded with precision to the skeleton of the vehicle. She also shared that approximately 99% of these welds are executed by robots.
There was a distinct harmony observed between humans and automation throughout the facility. There are reportedly more than 2,000 robots used in the BMW body assembly process, performing operations such as welding, applying adhesive, performing inspections, rotating the large body parts, and transporting subassemblies throughout the factory.
There were several expansive robotic work cells throughout the facility. Each cell was equipped with a team of robots that were synchronized to perform complex tasks with precision and efficiency. Human intervention was limited to outside of the safety zone, where operators could monitor the robots and safely intervene as needed.
It was noted that there are 6,689 spot welds executed during the body assembly process, which underscores the critical nature of this step in guaranteeing the vehicle’s structural integrity and passenger safety.
As the group traveled along the tour route, they encountered several automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which were autonomously transporting essential materials to the work cells. Despite having the right-of-way, these intelligent vehicles would decelerate and halt for pedestrians. It was astonishing to witness their swiftness and how quickly they could accelerate and decelerate.
Lean Six Sigma and the Daily Management System
The highlight of the visit was the presentation and discussion with the subject matter experts on their daily management system after the plant tour. A daily management system is a tool used to align the organization towards common goals and objectives, and to communicate key performance indicators (KPIs). It is typically seen on the shop floor in the form of a display board with visibility on safety, quality, delivery, and productivity. Some companies use manual whiteboards, while others have adopted electronic means of communication.
Until recently, BMW used a hybrid system, with a manual production board that was updated manually by production personnel. This information was then manually entered into their computer system to capture it electronically. However, as part of their innovation and continuous improvement efforts, they have implemented an all-electronic version of the daily management system, which they call “T-Cube.” This system was developed corporately and is now being used in production at all their 15 sites.
Nick Xanos and Kevin Duncan, both production specialists with BMW, led the discussion on how they utilize T-Cube to lead their teams and the future innovations that are being pursued. Each day, prior to production start-up, the entire production team meets as part of their daily Gemba talk and reviews the T-Cube information. The connectivity with the production equipment has reduced much of the wasted activity in recording and preparing the information. All the production boards throughout the shop will look the same in format, with one exception: the quality parameters monitored can vary from cell to cell. The boards are audited monthly for compliance. The team scores “points” for compliance, creating a healthy competition between production teams and shifts.
An innovative step added with T-Cube is the electronic capture and documentation of problem-solving activities. This provides a standardized method for the team to walk through the problem-solving steps, including Ishikawa (fishbone) methodology and five-why iterative interrogative technique. In addition to being stored electronically, the team can also tag and share the activity and results with other work teams. This collaborative effort helps other teams who might be encountering similar problems. A future innovation being explored is using mobile apps for data entry.
Philip Kingsbury, production systems manager for the Spartanburg site, concluded the session with a discussion on how BMW is pursuing even more innovation in their operations. He explained that there are six “swim lanes” of cutting-edge innovation being explored: Connectivity, Automation, Virtualization, Data Analytics, Additive Manufacturing, and Collaboration. They try to tap the collaborative juices of their team to think outside the box and come up with novel applications. One example he shared was how a group of 40 participants performed a one-week blitz to drive improvement using Microsoft Power Apps. Multiple good ideas were generated that sparked several applications for use within the plant.
Charging into the Future
The OpExChange plant visit to the BMW factory in Spartanburg was a valuable experience that provided a firsthand look at the cutting-edge processes and methodologies that drive one of the most innovative automobile manufacturing facilities in the world. The group was impressed by the harmony between humans and automation, the use of advanced technologies, and the commitment to continuous improvement. The visit also highlighted the important role that BMW plays in the South Carolina economy, both directly and indirectly.
The OpExChange is grateful to BMW for hosting the visit and for sharing their insights on lean manufacturing and the daily management system. The group looks forward to applying the lessons learned from this visit to their own operations.
The group is also excited about the future as BMW opens their battery plant in Woodruff. This investment will further solidify BMW’s commitment to South Carolina and create new jobs and opportunities in the state.
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com). More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website www.OpExChange.com.