BMW's Leipzig factory sets new company benchmarks

Leipzig, Germany. BMW's new Leipzig assembly plant has completed the company's "most successful production launch ever," Plant Manager Peter Claussen said during the dedication of the factory here about 118 miles (190 kilometers) southwest of Berlin.

After about two months of production, only one of every 100 3-series models required rework, he said.

Quality Manager Gerhard Schlager attributed the error rate to training. The plant's 2,000 employees were trained at other BMW facilities.

Leipzig's new logistics system is also making an impact, Claussen said. Body, paint and assembly areas are linked to a central area -- as they are at BMW's plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Bigger than its counterpart in the United States, this central area serves as a communication center. It houses a kitchen, cafeteria, lab, along with administrative and medical offices.

Each area is open, and even chefs and lab technicians are visible behind the glass.

Workers reach their stations through the central area. Above them, car bodies are transported from storage to the paint and assembly areas.

Employees can sense the plant's rhythm from the entry area and from each seat in the cafeteria, thanks to London architect Zaha Hadid's design.

BMW has paid close attention to work cycles in the 750-yard-long (650-meter-long) assembly space, which resembles a hand with four fingers, with the assembly line running through its middle.

Designed by a student working on his dissertation, this configuration makes it possible for suppliers to bring their parts to the lines over the shortest possible routes, just in time and just in sequence.

For any expansion of the line or changeover for new models, more fingers can be added. BMW executives liked the concept so much that they patented it in the United States and Europe. And, naturally, they hired the student.

Flexible hours

Thanks to a special agreement in Leipzig, the company can increase the plant's hours of operation from 60 to 120 over three shifts without any extra cost. That should help it adjust to consumer demand.

On an annual basis, the pay scale in Leipzig is 25 percent less than at BMW's factories in Bavaria. The 38-hour workweek is the norm in Leipzig, compared with 35 hours in Bavaria. The overtime charges are also 25 percent less.

About 160 cars a day are built in Leipzig. In two years, 650 3-series units will roll off the line a day. The work force will have doubled by then.

The addition of the plant will lead to the creation of more than 5,000 jobs to support to the factory.

Tags: Automakers BMW

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