TRAVERSE CITY, MICH.-- To beef up the new generation of the Z roadster, BMW Manufacturing Corp. started by beefing up its body shop.
The Spartanburg, S.C., assembly plant invested about $70 million to enhance its body weld operations to make the Z4, which replaced the Z3 last fall, said Stefan Floeck, manager for manufacturing engineering, body in white.
We clearly wanted to get into the segment of the Boxsters of this world, Floeck said Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Management Briefing Seminars, referring to the Z4s more upscale Porsche competitor.
BMW designers had made the Z4 a larger and heavier replacement. To give the car more rigidity, Floecks body shop had to:
*Increase the number of body weld spots by 15 percent, to a total of 4,300.
*Increase the number of structural seals by 70 percent.
*Add 82 robots to the underbody line.
*Add 28 robots to the body framing line.
The product upgrade required BMW to require less of the sort of manual assembly work that characterized the plant when it opened in Spartanburg in 1994, and more on robotics. Floeck said the Z4s body assembly is now 90 percent automated, compared to the Z3 line it replaced, which was about 25 percent automated.
Floeck, who joined the Spartanburg operation three years ago, reflected on the change in approaches. When the plant first opened, BMW was keen on training its South Carolina workers in manual work most of whom were new to both auto-making and manufacturing. At that time, plant executives said the emphasis on manual work would provide a good education in car-building.
Floeck said other issues are now part of the tooling decision including the higher price of the roadster and the lower cost of robotics.
Spartanburgs mission has also been expanded over the past nine years. The plant also builds the X5 sport wagon and expects to produce more than 170,000 vehicles this year.
The plant originally was built to produce only about 70,000 a year.