I had the pleasure of taking the popular BMW auto plant tour in Munich, Germany this summer. While the entire tour was memorable, the painting process was truly inspiring. Allow me to “paint the picture” of how this process works and I’ll offer a call to action at the end.
This plant produces 8-900 vehicles per day. Every BMW is custom made for a specific customer. Cars are dunked and tumbled in a primer solution as part of the automation. You can watch the first minute or two of this video to get a sense of this phase. The body is given a negative electrical charge, while the primer is given a positive charge. The opposite charges attract and this makes the zinc phosphate primer adhere better to prevent corrosion. Impressive! There are special ovens the cars pass through to cure the primer. The bodies then get a sealer application on their underside, before going to a staging area for color.
The painting area is enclosed and spotless. Cars enter this sterile area and get a rubdown of negatively-charged ostrich feathers. These feathers attract any positively-charged, stray dust particles. The plant has invested millions of dollars in robotic technology throughout the plant, including the painting process. The robot paint team opens and closes doors, hoods, and trunks. They spray a perfectly fine mist and an even flow of paint. They swivel to follow every contour of the car body, including reversing upside down, to coat under every door and frame.
The robot paint heads are self-cleaning after so many paint jobs of the same color. They’re also capable of changing paint heads automatically for different colors. Each body receives four layers of paint. The paint is magnetized to attract metal and minimize paint loss.
As if all of this isn’t enough – here’s the part that impressed me the most. To further reduce waste, there’s a downward flow of air that blows any excess paint mist down. There’s a man-made river that flows perpendicular and under the assembly line to catch this excess paint. These paint particles are then filtered out of the water and recycled! You can view these processes in the first couple of minutes of this video. The man-made river shows up for a couple of seconds around :23 – 26.
Call To Action:
If BMW is able to achieve this level of detail and perfection on a paint job, what can you and I achieve in our organizations? This applies to any business or non-profit, regardless of size or industry. As an exercise, think about your own processes and determine:
– Which one is the most repetitive? How many times per day/week/year does it run?
– Which one costs the most in time and money? Roughly, what is that total cost?
– Which is most vital for success? How much is it worth to your organization?
– What process is most important to customers? How much is it worth to them?
There may very well be redundancies in your answers – but were there any surprises? Do you now see an opportunity to improve one of your key processes? Can you imagine applying this “BMW rigor” to every step of that process? What if you could:
– Automate or upgrade technology
– Delegate, outsource, or use part time or temp labor
– Boost training
– Eliminate steps
– Get more creative (think ostrich feathers and man-made rivers!)
– Improve consistency
– Minimize inspections, waste, rework, and defects
– Reduce cycle time
– Increase customer satisfaction
– Increase profits and gain market share
Processes can become so routine that your staff learns to live with mediocrity. Take a page out of the BMW playbook and learn to take a much closer view. Get inspired and save some time and money that can be put to better use.