The Value of the Assembly Line in Automobile Manufacture
In 1913, an innovation in automobile manufacture was born when Ford Motors experimented with winches and ropes to pull the chassis down a line while the assemblers stood in one place with their parts piles. The old process where workers moved in teams down the line, receiving their car parts from "parts runners" at each chassis as they arrived, was replaced by the automated assembly line, thus radically reducing by about 70 percent the original 17-hour labor input in the traditional moving team system. Since then, cars began to be produced with increasing flexibility and economy.
The State-of-the-Art BMW Plant in Leipzig
The newly-opened manufacturing plant of BMW in Leipzig, Germany boasts of a high-tech assembly line that transports the chassis from one production station to another with the speed and ease that carries with it the promise of producing the planned capacity of 650 BMW vehicles per day by 2007. Located in three buildings arranged in a circle around the open-structure central building, the assembly line production is clearly visible to all employees. This pioneering architecture not only aims to promote transparency and communication among employees, but also reflects a plant-within-a-plant principle in which the operations are divided into three smaller operating units with focused objectives, namely, (1) the construction of the main framework, (2) the paint job, and (3) the assembly of other remaining car parts.
As far as operations are concerned, the site of the youngest BMW plant offers several advantages: accessibility (geographical center of Germany) from the BMW Group's existing supplier network; abundance in potential employees (the region has almost 20 percent unemployment rate); a relatively cooperative workers' union (the IG Metall Union agreed to a number of BMW's demands such as flexibility in hours in running the machines); and subsidization by the local government of as much as 30.1 percent (about $500 million) of the total investment costs (over $1.59 billion) following the full construction of the plant.
The Assembly Line and Rate of Production
The automotive assembly line in the BMW Plant just recently began producing the X5 SAV and Z4 Roadster. While there are slight differences between the procedures of creating the two variants, specifically with regard to the smaller segments or sub-units of the operation, the core operation flows for both cars are essentially the same. The assembly line of the two variants efficiently follow the same sequence: first, the vehicles are brought to the body shop where the small car parts are welded into the underbody by robots and assemblers; next, the cars are brought to the paint shop where several coatings of environment-friendly paint and sealant are sprayed onto the car body; and finally, the remaining parts are assembled into the vehicles in the assembly halls. Each stage is further divided into...