In accordance with BMW's wishes, all 2,000 of the Huntsville workers began wearing white lab coats -- even those who go nowhere near the line that makes BMW's parts. This year every employee in the plant will wear a pair of black static-free athletic shoes and will receive a new pair every year from the company.
Siemens built lockers to allow for the new wardrobe. And based on a request from BMW engineers, the central machine shop was moved and walled off from the rest of the plant.
"There was some resistance to some of this," says Bill Fodness, plant manager for Siemens VDO Automotive Electronics Corp. "But the beauty of this customer was that he said, 'No negotiation.' "
Siemens managers would not identify BMW by name as the customer, but BMW confirmed its new relationship with the Alabama supplier.
Siemens at first questioned the need to move the machine shop. And the plant's UAW work force -- inherited from its days as a Chrysler operation -- resisted the idea of wearing lab coats.
Peter Carozza Jr., human resources director at the plant, says, "But these were things we knew we needed to do and wanted to do anyway. We want to attract new customers, and these changes will help us do that. The new customer became a catalyst for getting things done we should've done on our own."
Since stepping into Huntsville in 2004, Siemens also has landed a contract with a Japanese company in the United States that begins in 2009. Officials declined to identify the automaker. Next year Huntsville will begin supplying Ford Motor Co.
BMW also pressed Siemens for changes in tool maintenance. In response, Siemens created a system of washing and monitoring the use of its electronic stencils, the large thin metal sheets that workers use to apply circuitry onto components.
"It could be a headache to keep up with these before," operations manager Stephen Burcham says as he picks up one of the stencils.
"We've really ended up with a better system as a result of all this."
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]