Connected, flexible, autonomous: BMW Group expands use of innovative technologies in production logistics

BMW:Connected, flexible, autonomous: BMW Group expands use of innovative technologies in production logistics

Munich. The BMW Group is increasingly relying on
innovations from the fields of digitalisation and Industry 4.0 in
production logistics. This will ensure the company’s global production
network continues to receive the parts it needs in a timely and
reliable manner in the future. The focus is on applications such as
logistics robots, autonomous transport systems at plants and
digitalisation projects for an end-to-end supply chain. Staff can
control logistics processes from mobile devices such as smartphones
and tablets and use virtual reality applications to plan future
logistics. Innovations coming out of many pilot projects are being
implemented worldwide in logistics at BMW Group plants.

“Logistics is the heart of our production system. Our broad spectrum
of ground-breaking projects helps us run increasingly complex
logistics processes efficiently and transparently,” according to
Jürgen Maidl, head of Logistics for the BMW Group production network.
“We are taking advantage of the wide range of available technological
innovations and working closely with universities and start-ups. We
are already working with tomorrow’s Industry 4.0 technologies today.”

Around 1,800 suppliers at more than 4,000 locations deliver over 31
million parts to the 30 BMW Group production sites worldwide every
day. Digitalisation and innovations help the company organise
logistics more flexibly and more efficiently. At the same time, almost
10,000 vehicles coming off the production line daily must be delivered
to customers around the globe. Digitally connected delivery, so-called
Connected Distribution, ensures that these transport routes are also
more transparent.

Connected Supply Chain: Full data transparency in the supply chain

The BMW Group supply chain relies on a global supply network and
close cooperation with numerous logistics service providers. The
Connected Supply Chain (CSC) programme significantly increases supply
chain transparency. It updates the plants’ material controllers and
logistics specialists on the goods’ location and delivery time every
15 minutes. This transparency enables them to respond immediately if
delays appear likely and take appropriate steps early to avoid costly
extra runs.

Autonomous transport systems both inside and outside

Autonomous transport systems such as tugger trains or Smart Transport
Robots are increasingly used to transport goods within production halls.

To allow tugger trains to now also be used for the sophisticated
process of supplying assembly lines, as part of a pilot project, BMW
Group Plant Dingolfing has developed an automation
kit
, which enables conventional tugger trains of any brand
already on hand to be upgraded to autonomous tugger trains. The
capabilities of these driverless tugger trains go beyond automation of
earlier solutions.

Another future technology is also being piloted alongside autonomous
tugger trains at the Dingolfing plant. A Smart Watch
supports logistics staff during the container change process and
announces approaching tugger trains via a vibration alarm. The
employee can also read which containers should be unloaded and send
the tugger train on to its next destination by tapping the display.

The BMW Group is also pioneering the use of autonomous transport
systems outdoors. As part of a pilot project, the BMW Group is using
an autonomous outdoor transport robot for the first time at its
Leipzig plant to bring truck trailers from where they are parked to
the unloading and loading bay on their own. A mobile platform drives
underneath the trailer, connects it and steers it through the plant.
The so-called AutoTrailer, with a payload of up to 30
tons, navigates by laser, without additional guidelines or markings,
through the plant’s outdoor areas. Sensors and cameras provide a 360°
all-round view, which forms the basis of the safety concept.

The huge potential of this transport system is particularly evident
at the BMW Group’s largest plant in Spartanburg, where about 1,200 of
these trailer-shunting manoeuvres take place every day.

Back in 2015, the BMW Group joined forces with the Fraunhofer
Institute IML to develop the first self-driving Smart
Transport Robots
(STR) for transporting roll containers
through logistics areas within production halls. The second generation
is now in operation at BMW Group Plant Regensburg. The flat robots
carry roll containers weighing up to one ton and transport them
autonomously to where the goods need to be. They calculate the ideal
route independently and move freely through space. A built-in battery
module from the BMW i3 powers the STR for a whole work shift.

Loading and unloading of goods containers:
Robots take
over arduous tasks and relieve staff

After delivery to the plant, the goods are transported to the
assembly line in containers and parts containers of various sizes. For
the tiring job of reloading containers from pallets onto conveyor
belts or into storage, employees will be assisted in the future by
logistics robots specially developed for this purpose. Four different
types of robots, referred to as “Bots” by logistics experts,
are currently being tested or have already been integrated into series production.

The lightweight robots take on different jobs: they can take full
plastic boxes from the pallet in the incoming goods area and place
them on a conveyor system, they do unload tugger trains and place
boxes loaded with goods on a shelf, they collect various small parts
from appropriate supply racks and they stack empty containers on
pallets before they re-enter circulation.

Using artificial intelligence, the robots can detect and process
various different containers and determine the ideal grip point.

Smart devices support logistics staff in paperless logistics

Gloves with integrated scanners and displays, data glasses and smart
watches are increasingly used to support logistics employees. The
transition to paperless logistics, with digitally labelled containers
and shelves, opens up new areas of application for mobile devices.
Glove scanners read the electronic label and indicate the exact
contents of the small load carrier on a small display that can be worn
on the arm.

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence

The use of virtual reality already plays an important role in
planning logistics spaces. In a virtual environment, planners can
quickly and efficiently lay out future logistics areas completely and
assess how much space is needed, for instance. Planning is based on 3D
data representing the real structures of a logistics hall. For the
past several years, the BMW Group has been capturing its plants in
digital form with millimetre accuracy, using special 3D scanners and
high-resolution cameras. This creates a three-dimensional image of the
structures, so that manual recording on site is no longer needed. When
planning future logistics areas, BMW Group experts can now combine
existing data with a virtual “library” of shelves, lattice
boxes, small load carriers and around 50 other widely-used operating resources.

Connected Distribution:
Vehicle delivery transparency
from plant to showroom
Like delivery of parts to
plants, the transport of vehicles to the dealership is now also
digitally and transparently traceable. The former Connected
Distribution pilot project was fully integrated into series production
this year. The system uses the same IT built into BMW Group vehicles
to track the location of finished vehicles once they are ready to
leave the plant. The vehicle transmits its current geolocation and
status to the logistics centre via a mobile connection every time it
is switched off.

Focus on sustainability: Natural gas, electric and future
hydrogen trucks will reduce CO2 emissions

Logistics can help the BMW Group achieve its sustainability goals.
The focus here is on continuous expansion of CO2-efficient modes of
transport. More than 60 percent of all new vehicles now leave
production plants by rail.
Nevertheless, it is still necessary to
use trucks on certain in- and outbound logistics routes. To reduce
emissions from these truck journeys, the BMW Group is already using
natural gas and electric trucks in cooperation with logistics service
providers. The aim is to reduce truck emissions by 40% by 2030 and to
be completely emission-free by 2050.

Original Press Release