BMW has officially opened its new automotive plant in San Luis Potosi in Mexico.

Production head Oliver Zipse said during the opening ceremony: "The new plant in San Luis Potosi is an important pillar of the BMW Group's global production strategy. We aim to achieve a balance in our production and sales in the different world regions. We want to strengthen our footprint in important and growing markets. Plant San Luis Potosi will significantly boost our regional production flexibility in the Americas. From here, we are delivering our locally produced 3 Series sedan to customers worldwide."

The company has spent US$1bn on the new factory. The plant, which already employs 2,500 people, will have a capacity of up to 175,000 units per year.

The plant is working with four technical institutes in this area and has already trained 250 apprentices in technical occupations.

Purchasing and supply chief Andreas Wendt said: "We have a strong supplier base we can build on in Mexico, having sourced high-quality, technologically sophisticated and innovative products from here for more than 10 years. Every BMW Group vehicle today already contains at least one part from one of our 220 Mexican suppliers. Our new plant will benefit from short supply routes and the high level of flexibility this gives our supply chain."

The group has operated its own local purchasing office in Mexico since 2008. In 2017, the office relocated from Mexico City to San Luis Potosi, where it now employs 105 people. Purchasing volume in Mexico reached $2.5bn last year.

Focus on flexibility, digitalisation and sustainability

Hermann Bohrer, director of the Mexican plant, said: "The plant was designed from the start to allow us to respond quickly and flexibly to future model variants and production volumes. We use innovative Industry 4.0 technologies, including new automation solutions and modern assistance systems. Sustainability was also a major focus from the beginning – and we are setting new standards in this area."

The droup used digital 3D plans during construction of the plant, both for the building itself and for the installation of equipment. During every phase of construction, architects entered specific information, such as location, dimensions and completion date into digital models. Digital 3D-scanning technology was also used during construction for the first time. Combining these two technologies allowed for real-time analysis of construction progress and cost-efficient modifications, providing continuous planning reliability.

The new BMW plant is a pioneer in the field of intelligent maintenance. Smart maintenance assistant software is being used for the first time, enabling proactive maintenance throughout the plant to be planned ahead of time, thereby increasing equipment availability. Service activities are based on current, intelligently organised system data instead of predefined maintenance intervals. Using smart devices such as tablets and smartphones, staff receive all relevant information regarding equipment status.

Various Industry 4.0 technologies are used, for example, in assembly, where screens have largely replaced paper throughout the assembly process. Two screens per takt provide staff with all the information they need – information which, in the past, was only available on paper. This digital job card is being used for the first time at the group plant in Mexico.

Robots and employees work directly alongside one another in engine pre-assembly, cooperating in a way which plays to the strengths of each. Robots have the power to turn the heavy convertor, while the employees have the manual dexterity to make the final adjustments to fit them together precisely.

From the first full year of production, San Luis Potosi will be the group's most resource-efficient plant.

Careful use of water resources is a primary sustainability objective. The site, with the production network's lowest water consumption per vehicle produced, will be the group's first paint shop to generate no process wastewater at all. The water needed for the painting process is reconditioned and reused.

The use of renewable energy sources ensures that the plant will be supplied with 100% CO2-free electricity in future. A solar energy plant on-site, covering an area of more than 70,000 square metres, will produce part of the energy.

Production for global market

The new plant in Mexico expands the group production network to a total of 31 locations.

The country is a member of the NAFTA free-trade area with Canada and the US. It also has a large number of free-trade agreements, including with the European Union and Mercosur, which make it easier to export cars and import supplied parts.

The NAFTA region in particular, with its consistently high sales volumes, is a key market for the BMW group. Twenty-five years ago, BMW opened its plant in Spartanburg, US, and has since spent nearly $9bn at the site. The company will invest a further $600m there by 2021 to gear it up for future generations of the X models. The number of jobs will increase in parallel to around 11,000. In total, the company supports almost 70,000 direct and indirect jobs in the US.

BMW in Mexico

The group sales company in Mexico is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The local sales company is not only responsible for the Mexican market, but also manages the company's business strategy for the whole Latin America region, covering 28 countries. Mexico is the most important market in this region.

In 2018, the group sold 25,090 vehicles (18,501 BMW, 6,589 Mini) in Mexico – an increase of 13% year on year.