Top 10 digital factories: BMW
Opening up a world of...
Featuring in our Top 10 digital factories, we look at how BMW Group is adopting industry 4.0 solutions to digitalise production.
Opening up a world of opportunities for BMW Group, Industry 4.0 within its production system enables “fulfilment of individual customer wishes and enhances the flexibility and quality of production processes.”
The group is driving modernisation within its production by digitalising its systems via four key technology clusters: smart data analytics; smart logistics; innovative automation and assistance systems and additive manufacturing.
This digitalisation and innovation is impacting the entire BMW Group production value chain. “From press shop to body shop to paint shop, from assembly to logistics – every stage of production benefits from the use of digital processes,” comments BMW Group.
Smart data analytics
Smart data analytics - the capability to capture and evaluate data to improve processes. BMW Group harnesses this technology in a number of ways including:
Algorithm analysis of thousands of bolted connections in when a vehicle is assembled providing an important input for more reliable identification of errors before they occur.
Harnessing the capability of virtual reality, creating a 3D environment in real-time. The virtual spaces and scenarios are used to optimise processes and safety.
Utilising intelligent data analysis to help improve quality across the entire value chain. With this analysis of data, the group can expand process specifications to include a subjective analysis.
By harnessing smart data technologies and real time information for its entire supply chain, the BMW Group is striving to develop ground-breaknig systems for smarter and more flexible logistics operations.
“The focus is on applications such as logistics robots, autonomous transport systems at plants and digitalisation projects for an end-to-end supply chain,” comments BMW Group.
How BMW Group is harnessing technology within its logistics:
Autonomous tugger trains: used in assembly logistics, these robots use laser signals to navigate independently through production halls.
Smart transport robots: these robots are able to transport components weighing up to 0.5 tons independently. The technology uses wireless transmitters to determine their location, and can calculate the best route to the desired destination. These transport robots are also powered by recycled BMW i3 batteries with a capacity to drive for eight hours.
Connected distribution: via the group connected distribution network, vehicles send and receive information relating to their route from plant to dealership. When it stops the vehicle relays its geolocation and status to the logistics centre.
When it comes to innovative automation, BMW Group strives to use intelligent solutions to relieve employees, complementing human flexibility and sensitivity with the strengths of robots.
How BMW Group is harnessing innovative automation:
Collaborative lightweight robots: BMW Group's collaborative robots work alongside employees, performing strenuous and high-precision tasks. Its lightweight robots are extremely versatile, however their speed is limited and they can come to a standstill if any dangers arise.
Exoskeletons: like a second skeleton, these types of robotics work as an external support for the body, strengthening employee legs, arms or back.
Dating back to 1990, BMW Group has been prototyping additive manufacturing (3D printing), and has continued to develop this technology. With the use of additive manufacturing methods, production times for parts will further shorten, as well as providing greater potential for more economical and flexible production, and individualisation of components.
How BMW Harnesses additive manufacturing methods:
The additive manufacturing centre: located at BMW Group’s research and innovation centre (Munich), the additive manufacturing centre handles almost 25,000 prototype orders, building over 100,000 components a year. Alongside BMW i Ventures, the centre is also investing in start-ups and new companies to develop ground-breaking technologies.
Series components: in 2010, BMW Group completed its first successful use of the technology in a small series production for water pump wheels within its DTM vehicles. Other series components include a 2012 production for plastics parts in Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and in 2017 for metal parts in the BMW i* Roadster.
Customised assembly aids: BMW Group has not only harnessed this technology for production parts, it has also utilised 3D printing to produce individual thumb supports to relieve employees working in vehicle assembly to avoid excessive strain on the thumb joint.
For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global
Image source: BMW Group
First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector
First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV.
Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’.
A Bit of Background
First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules.
The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about.
How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?
Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’.
After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’.
According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin.