As BMW nears completion of a new assembly hall that is part of a $750m expansion of the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant, the full extent of the logistics innovation that will underpin manufacturing of the BMW X3 there is becoming clear.
Based on the ‘finger’ layout first seen at BMW’s Leipzig plant, Spartanburg’s designers and engineers have focused on the company’s “build-to-order” priority, which allows the customer to make choices on the end product just five days prior to assembly. The division of manufacture in which the BMW X3 will move for final assembly work to the new hall from the adjacent Body and Paint shops, will allow for high-volume production with higher parts complexity according to the carmaker.
The assembly line will move up and down the three fingers of the factory, each finger being lined with receiving docks for just-in-time or just-in-sequence parts. This allows small batches of components to be delivered directly to their point of application on the assembly line, doing away with excess inventory and inefficient delivery routes. Over 70% of parts, by cubic volume, will be delivered directly to the line in this way. Many of these parts will be stored in what the company is calling a “warehouse on wheels”, where the inventory stays on the delivery trailer until needed.
The remaining parts volume will be supplied out of the integrated warehouse where workers will move parts to the requisite stations via scheduled trolleys. Spartanburg differs slightly from Leipzig in that these deliveries will be made manually by drivers. Where Leipzig uses AGVs for supply to the line, Richard Morris, Vice President of Assembly, BMW Manufacturing, told Automotive Logistics that Spartanburg will manually supply to the line in order to maintain the flexibility required for the ‘build-to-order’ demands of customers while being able to respond quickly to market fluctuation.
Without excess inventory to deal with Morris explained that workers are able to focus on the task in hand, part of the company’s ‘associate-oriented approach’ in which ergonomic considerations inform everything from building design to assembly practice.
The design of the new assembly hall also allows BMW production flexibility should demand dictate by extending the existing fingers and not having to redesign the entire plant.