Flexibility and acting within a strong international network: these are the cornerstones of the BMW Group’s production operations. Even with a growing number of models and variants, the global production network can react quickly and flexibly to changes in the markets and to individual customer demands thanks to its ‘breathing structures’.
This way, it manages to counter the increasing market volatility. After all, in an increasingly fierce competitive environment, it is not only the product substance and quality that count, but also how quickly new products can be launched and how reliably customer demands are fulfilled. A high-performance production network also has to meet the increasing demand for individually produced vehicles as well as accommodate the wide range of variants and the complexity of products and processes.
As the BMW Group follows a customer and order specific approach in building cars (built-to-order), the company permanently aligns the production programs at the individual sites within the highly flexible production network to the demands of the markets. This includes shifts in the model mix as well as shifts in timing and regional allocation between the plants, depending on the respective sales markets. For the BMW Group, this fine-tuning is a common and continuous process.
Extraordinary strength: mastery of complexity and flexibility
An extraordinary strength of the BMW Group production network is mastering complexity and increasing flexibility through globally applicable standards as well as product and process modules. Thanks to this comprehensive approach, the company can develop new products efficiently and produce them economically, despite an increase in the number of models and variants.
At the same time, customers are offered a higher level of individualization. Even vehicle variants with smaller lot sizes can be integrated into series production, such as hybrid models or security cars. This approach is further strengthened by the great flexibility alignment of the production processes, which anticipates defined variation ranges for the respective production volume at the vehicle plants.
As a premium manufacturer, the BMW Group identifies market and technological trends early on, includes them in the development of successor models, and acts with sound concepts and flexible structures at the production sites. This is why, as a rule, the vehicle plants are always aligned in a way that allows for the inclusion of additional models into running production. The assembly areas are designed to facilitate the integration of successor models without requiring major reconstruction. This way, variants of different model series can be integrated into the existing facility structures even at a later point.
The neutral main line: ensuring maximum flexibility.
A crucial element in this setup is the ‘neutral main line’: Thanks to state-ofthe-art logistics processes, individual scopes are pre-assembled in modules according to the customer’s requirements at a supply center, usually located close to the vehicle plant, and are then fed to the assembly’s ‘neutral main line’ just in sequence. This way, various models can be fitted flexibly on a single assembly line, ensuring the perfect capacity utilization of the plants. BMW Group locations that apply this concept include the production sites in Regensburg and Leipzig.
Flexibility is further enhanced by the setup of the vehicle assemblies in the form of a finger or comb structure, which was implemented for the first time when the BMW Group’s Leipzig plant was built. Today, it is also applied at the site in Spartanburg. Thanks to the patented structure, logistical routes can be reduced to a minimum and further production steps can be inserted flexibly, simply by extending individual ‘fingers’; a stoppage of production is not required. This is important as the high capacity utilization of the production facilities is indispensible for the plants’ profitability.
Another core element that strengthens flexibility is the BMW Group’s range of innovative working time models. They separate a person’s working hours from the plant’s operating hours, resulting in an improved work/life balance for staff members. At the same time, the company can respond flexibly to fluctuations in demand. A good example is the motorcycle production in Berlin, which has to deal with major seasonal differences in capacity utilization.
External production partners take some load off internal structures.
In order to launch certain products even faster and to gain a competitive edge, the BMW Group draws on additional capacities at external production partners, such as Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik in Graz, Austria, for the series production of the current MINI Countryman and MINI Paceman models or the production of the MINI Hatch at VDL Nedcar in Born, Netherlands, since July 2014. These collaborations take some workload off the Group’s structures, create leeway and provide valuable competitive advantages. In line with the corporate philosophy, the brand-defining expertise as well as the control and assessment authority in design, engine production, testing, purchasing, and service remains with the BMW Group.