AT THE BMW GROUP, THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN.
Digitalisation in production, also referred to as Industry 4.0, opens up new opportunities for the entire BMW Group production system – enabling fulfilment of individual customer wishes and enhancing the flexibility and quality of production processes. Modernisation also benefits our associates over the long term. The BMW Group is pressing ahead with digitalisation of its production system in the following technology clusters:
Smart data analytics; smart logistics; innovative automation & assistance systems and additive manufacturing.
Digitalisation and innovative technologies are impacting the entire BMW Group production value chain. From press shop to body shop to paint shop, from assembly to logistics – every stage of production benefits from the use of digital processes.
Smart data analytics includes applications used to capture and evaluate data and improve processes. Factory digitalisation, for example, enables a three-dimensional image of a production plant to be generated with millimetre accuracy. Later, 3D data can also be used in modifications and calculations at the factory.
Artificial intelligence relieves employees of monotonous tasks.
Employees in standard production are supported and relieved by artificial intelligence (AI). Fast, efficient and reliable technology ensures employees do not have to check model inscriptions against order data during the final inspection, for instance. This is now taken care of by AI, which alerts the employee if an inscription is not correct. This and other AI applications provide significant value added for the BMW Group production system.
Algorithms analyse thousands of bolted connections in vehicle assembly and provide important input for more reliable identification of errors before they occur. A green light means everything is OK!
Virtual reality for process optimisation.
Virtual reality is used to simulate an interactive 3D environment in real time. The technology offers both gamers and companies real added value. The international team at the BMW Group Virtual Reality Lab creates virtual spaces and scenarios that can be used to optimise processes and safety, for example, for the logistics sector.
The findings of intelligent data analysis are used to help improve quality in all areas of production and logistics and beyond. Colleagues were easily able to expand process specifications to include a subjective analysis that was important to them.
The BMW Group is developing ground-breaking systems in the area of smart logistics. Smart data technologies provide real-time information on the entire supply chain. This ensures that delivery of supplies to plants can be adjusted quickly and flexibly in response to changing conditions.
Autonomous tugger train.
Autonomous tugger trains are mainly used in assembly logistics, relying on laser signals to navigate themselves independently through the production halls.
Smart Transport Robot.
Smart Transport Robots are able to transport components weighing up to 0.5 tons independently from A to B. Once wireless transmitters have determined their location, they can calculate the best route to the destination for themselves. Powered by recycled BMW i3 batteries, they can drive for eight hours.
The focus is on applications such as logistics robots, autonomous transport systems at plants and digitalisation projects for an end-to-end supply chain.
Innovations coming out of many pilot projects are being implemented worldwide in logistics at BMW Group plants.
With Connected Distribution, the vehicle sends and receives important information en route from the plant to the dealership. When it comes to a stop, the vehicle relays its current geolocation and status to the logistics centre via a mobile phone connection.
Innovative automation means using intelligent solutions to relieve employees, on the one hand, and complementing human flexibility and sensitivity with the strengths of robots, on the other. Lightweight robots work side by side with employees, no form of protective barrier needed.
Collaborative lightweight robots.
Collaborative robots work directly alongside employees, where they perform strenuous and high-precision tasks. Their speed is limited and they come to a standstill if any danger arises.
Friday morning in Bavaria.
Our lightweight robots are extremely versatile, working alongside production employees. One of the ways we tested this was in a typical breakfast scenario.
Exoskeletons, like a second skeleton, serve as an external support structure for the body and strengthen the employee's legs, arms or back.
Working with an industrial robot.
Nowadays, it is even possible for humans to work directly with conventional, large-scale industrial robots. Naturally, safety is also paramount here: If a person gets dangerously close to a robot, the latest safety technology kicks in to halt the movement of the robot arm.
The BMW Group has used additive manufacturing in prototyping since 1990 and has continued to develop these technologies, also known as 3D printing, ever since. New additive manufacturing methods will further shorten production times. Tool-less production holds great potential for more economical and flexible production, as well as for individualisation of components. The company has also used these technologies in standard production since 2010.
Additive Manufacturing Campus.
The BMW Group continues to expand its leading role in the use of additive manufacturing technology. As well as producing prototype and standard parts, the new Additive Manufacturing Campus near Munich also conducts research into new 3D printing technologies and holds staff training under the same roof. Up to 80 employees work at the new campus. In 2019, the company additively manufactured around 300,000 parts.
Serial parts from the 3D printer.
The BMW Group celebrated its first successful use of this technology in small-series production in 2010, with the additively-manufactured water pump wheel still fitted in its DTM vehicles to this day. Further use in standard production followed in 2012, with additively-manufactured plastic parts for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. The BMW i8 Roadster also uses an additively-manufactured metal and plastic component in standard production.
The BMW Group gains access to the latest technologies through long-standing collaborations with leading automotive manufacturers and universities, and by scouting out newcomers to the industry. The BMW Group’s venture capital unit, BMW i Ventures, invested in the Silicon Valley-based company Carbon back in 2016. This was followed by further investments in the firms Desktop Metal and Xometry, as well as the German start-up ELISE.
Research and preliminary development.
The BMW Group is an important partner within the collaborative research projects supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in the field of additive manufacturing for metals and plastics. Working with project partners, this will pave the way for integrating these processes into the automotive industry’s standard production environment.
The team at the Additive Manufacturing Campus plans to offer individual consultation and training for staff in different areas of the company worldwide. This will ensure successful, targeted use of additive manufacturing and familiarise colleagues with the benefits and functionality the processes offer.