US: BMW plant restructures for flexible single-line

By just-auto.com editorial team | 9 March 2006

BMW's US manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has completed what it says is one of the most complex assembly process restructurings ever attempted within the plant, the conversion of the two-line assembly system into a one-line system.

The new one-line system allows the assembly of Z4 Roadsters, X5 Sport Activity Vehicles and future new models on one line instead of having a line for each vehicle.

The new assembly system allows the plant to more easily adjust to fluctuations in market demand, BMW claims.

According to Dieter Lauterwasser, vice president of assembly: "The one-line system will give us the flexibility to vary model combinations from 100% X5s to 60% Z4s and 40% X5s."

The dismantling of the Z4 production line began in November last year, when the last Z4 of the year was completed.

During the production shutdown, employees went through off-site training so that they would know how to build both X5 and Z4 models upon returning to work.

Specialised equipment for the new system includes automated robots and skid conveyors. The skids, able to detect vehicle type and adjust accordingly, feature ergonomically friendly wood surfaces. A new system, similar to ones used at other BMW plants, automatically installs engines and powertrain components into either model. The plant's assembly planning groups spent months designing and testing the new process layout, workstations and equipment. Building expansions have added more than 70,000 square feet of floor space providing room for extended processes.

Production of the new updated Z4 and M Roadsters has begun, and the Z4 Coupe and M Coupe production is scheduled to begin later in the spring.

The flexible line at Spartanburg is also likely to see another vehicle added in the shape of the 'Space functional concept' (an MPV by another name) which will share platform with the next generation X5. The rival to Mercedes' R-class, dubbed 'X6' is expected to premier at a motor show in 2007 prior to market rollout in 2008.

In 2005, BMW's Spartanburg plant built 105,000 X5s and 19,800 Z4s.

Dave Leggett