BMW complexities transform U.S. plant

A $300 million body shop renovation at BMW AG’s U.S. auto plant will represent a personality change for the factory when the project is completed late this year.

BMW Manufacturing Corp. is transforming its Z3-series production line from a largely manual assembly operation to a line that is mostly automated.

That is a key transformation for the South Carolina plant. When it launched in 1994, BMW wanted its Spartanburg Z3 plant to be as simple as possible. Production associates welded parts by hand and handled most of the components that went into the sports car.

But BMW’s newer vehicles are becoming more complex and so is their manufacturing, says Dieter Lauterwasser, vice president for painted body at the South Carolina subsidiary.

"With this project, we are truly becoming a BMW plant," Lauterwasser said.

Lauterwasser, formerly an engineering manager with BMW South Africa, speaks at the World Class Manufacturing session at 7:30 this morning.

The transformation of the Spartanburg plant began with the addition of the X5 sport wagon in 1999. That vehicle consists of more than 9,000 parts, compared with about 3,000 in the current-generation Z3. The X5 adopted a new automated body assembly system designed in Germany that consists of small, flexible manufacturing cells.

Lauterwasser says the line for the new-generation Z3 — code-named E85 — will be even more automated than the 2-year-old X5 line.

Lauterwasser says the tooling for the line is en route to Spartanburg from Germany. It will be installed in September and October. In late October, the plant will begin tryouts.

He says the changes will not affect BMW’s paint operations.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com

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